Appalachian students to travel to Iowa to witness political history

BOONE—The venue and subject couldn't be more exciting for 10 political science majors at Appalachian State University who will travel with their professors to observe the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses, which are the first of 16 to be held in the nation.

The course, "The Iowa Project," is taught by Professor Philip Ardoin and Visiting Professor Paul Gronke, both from the Department of Government and Justice Studies.

The students, a mix of undergraduate and graduate political science majors, have been meeting on weekends to complete the coursework in preparation for the experience and to better understand the role of Iowa in the nomination process. They will document their observations during the caucuses on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #App2Iowa.

While in Iowa, the students will attend both Democratic and Republican caucuses, which are open to the public and occur primarily in high schools and community centers. Any registered voter can participate in their precincts' caucuses.

"The caucus process is complicated," Ardoin said. "The Republican presidential caucus is nonbinding. It's a straw poll with no legal bearing on how precinct delegates will vote at their state convention and ultimately at the Republican National Convention in July."

The Democratic presidential caucus in Iowa requires participants to indicate their presidential preference by a show of hands, Ardoin said. "Because the party has a 15 percent minimum threshold, there are often multiple rounds of voting before the precinct delegates choose a candidate."

Each of Iowa's 99 counties has its own caucus meeting in which voters choose candidates for local and state elections in addition to indicating a preference for the presidential nominee.

The students will be in Iowa for four days, having left Boone Jan. 29 for the 16-hour drive. They will attend Democratic and Republican campaign events of their choosing in addition to attending the party caucuses in locations outside Iowa City.

"Our goal is to see at least eight of the candidates," Ardoin said. Students can also participate in campaign activities if they choose to in order to see firsthand how campaigns work.

In addition, the students will join Ardoin and Gronke at an academic conference at the University of Iowa, where the professors will present research on the impact of early voting on presidential elections.

Ardoin said Appalachian will be the only university from North Carolina to have a formal class attending the caucuses.

"This election will be a once-in-a-lifetime event. We will be watching history," he said. "Whoever the candidates selected are, this is a crucial step, because the momentum from winning Iowa is critical to eventually winning the presidential nomination."

Published: Jan 27, 2016 10:41am