With the Republican State Convention looming this Saturday, and the Democratic State Convention completed last weekend…it’s a good week for some poltical blogging! I thought I’d blog occasionally on the political process that gets us to our new president every four years. Now don’t go hitting that big red X on the top of the page. Stay with me, and perhaps learn a few new things about your local government….
Acquiring a working knowledge of politics is something akin to becoming a ballerina. One cannot expect to waltz onto center stage and suddenly be able to execute dozens of turns on the tips of their toes. The trick is to master each small incremental step as it is presented to you.
Politics is the same progression. One must start at the grass roots level to really understand the candidates and their party. Folks often bemoan the fact they cannot make thoughtful and intelligent decisions on the major candidates for lack of understanding of that candidate’s politics. Or on a more basic level, they simply do not care for their party’s nominee. Ultimately, they are jumping into the game too late. For many, it’s not until their poke pen is poised over the “President” column, in the little curtained booth, that they really get serious.
Where should the research really start?
Ballerinas start at the barre, and citizen voters should start at the Precinct Caucus in their own home town. What sounds like a formal ivory tower event is really a cozy gathering of like minded folks all anxious to officially “kick off” the political race season. This little coffee house assembly will educate you on good, better, best choices for your party forerunner.
Caucuses are generally held at a school, church or community center in town. The crowd consists of the party faithful, the potential candidates (folks who gathered enough signatures to get their names on the long list) and regular citizens that want to have a say in which candidates are chosen to represent them and the direction of their party. If it’s a Presidential caucus year, especially if you live in Iowa, some details change.
Each political party handles the specific events of the evening (and subsequent days) slightly differently but they all follow a basic outline after you arrive:
• Meet and greet, schmooze and network.
• Potential candidates stand up and speak.
• Literature abounds expounding each challenger’s views.
• Policies are debated.
• Precinct officials are elected (these folks will vote on behalf of the masses – a small scale electoral college).
• A “straw poll” is taken to narrow the fields. Rest assured no real straws are sacrificed here; rather it’s an unofficial vote for who is the forerunner. Typically, Democrats tend to raise their hands and Republicans like to put pen to paper. In 2010, many Independent parties went “virtual” and gathered via the web.
• Results are tallied and announced that night.
The major accomplishment of the caucus is to help each party pare down their often prodigious lists of nominee choices. Finishing with a half dozen or so serious contenders is about right – just enough you can rattle them off the top of your head. Typically, potentials that do not end up in the single digit spots, graciously withdraw from the race.
Note they are not required to bow out. However, most low scorers will quickly remove their names, then prudently align themselves with the likely nominee choice. You know, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Others will stay in the race until their last candidate banner is removed from the primary party headquarters.
If you were to poll 100 average Americans likely only 20% would have heard of a precinct caucus. Of that 20%, only half would have a working understanding of what the event entails. Only half again will have an opinion on the candidate pool and fewer than half of that will show up for the precinct caucus. Did I lose you in the math? That means less than 1% of the general population will attend the precinct caucus. Yet it is those 1% that keep the American system of democracy alive. They came, they cared, they voted. YOU can be part of that glorious 1%!