Updated on 08.30.11

The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Iowa Politicking Edition

Trent Hamm

One very interesting part of living in Iowa (a facet that I imagine is really only shared with residents of New Hampshire) is the huge amount of political gamesmanship that goes on in this state for the six months or so before a presidential caucus. Because Iowa is the first state in the nation to have a presidential caucus, presidential candidates descend on Iowa like locusts. There are events all over the state every single day where you can meet the presidential candidates, hear them speak, and so on.

Besides that, if you ever even give a hint of being a participant in a caucus, you find yourself on the calling lists of all of the candidates.

Because of this attention, there’s a pretty big focus on presidential politics here in Iowa, particularly in the last months of the year before the presidential election. It’s fascinating to watch these candidates and campaigns trawl for votes all over the state.

Simply put, it’s politics season here in Iowa.

(An aside: whenever there’s a year in which an incumbent is in office, I register as a member of the other party because I feel my voice at the caucus matters more. That means I go back and forth with my party affiliation. In 2004, I was a “Democrat.” In 2012, I’m a “Republican.”)

The warning signs of defending the status quo Change is hard. It’s even harder when you’ve already decided against the possibility of changing anything. (@ seth’s blog)

Are Your Spending Habits Stunting Your Freelance Business Growth? There’s a careful balance to make here, even if you’re merely self-employed (like I am). There are expenses. How do you decide how many expenses are appropriate? Which ones actually provide value? (@ freelance switch)

How to Break a Big Goal into Little Steps This is a profound skill to have. Over and over again, there are large projects that show up in every aspect of my life. Knowing how to address them and move forward with them is incredibly useful. (@ pick the brain)

Social Capital and the Neighborhood Exchange In my eyes, this is just an outgrowth of a great relationship with neighbors. The better that relationship is, the better off you are. I am thrilled that I can open a conversation with any of my neighbors any time I wish. (@ get rich slowly)

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  1. valleycat1 says:

    OK, I can see that if an incumbent is a shoe-in, that party’s caucus isn’t making any real decisions as to candidate, but doesn’t the caucus also have some say in the party’s platform? And seems to me your switching back & forth means you’re on everyone’s list, not just the fact you’ve gone to a caucus.

    I’m assuming you go to the other party’s caucus in an effort to help them select their best candidate to oppose the incumbent. However, if you have strong political views better represented by the incumbent party, wouldn’t that mean your choice likely would not be representing the opposing party’s interest?

    Your switching parties at will says to me you either don’t have a strong political view one way or the other, there isn’t that much real difference between the parties, or you’re posing as a member of the opposition party for some other reason.

  2. Andi says:

    Thank you valleycat1 for saying so succintly what I was thinking.

  3. Johanna says:

    I know I was giving Trent grief before over being a “Republican,” but I do see the validity of choosing your party affiliation based on where you’ll have the most influence.

    My parents are almost as liberal as I am, but they live in a conservative area where a lot of the general elections for local offices are not competitive, so the elections are basically decided in the Republican primary. So my father is a registered Republican.

    But the 2004 general election for President *was* competitive, and I suspect the 2012 one will be as well. (Obama’s disapproval rating is sky high and climbing, but a lot of that disapproval comes from the left, from people who disapprove of the Republicans even more.) So valleycat1’s question is a valid one: If you’re registered with the “opposition party,” do you vote for the candidate you think is best, or for the one that’s most likely to lose to the incumbent?

  4. Joan says:

    Oh, thank goodness for someone else who looks at it mathematically.

    I actually do something of the opposite, due to my interest in local politics: I register with the MAIN party in our county, which is almost always Republican, because Pennsylvania has closed primaries and I know the Republican nominee, whoever it is, will generally win in the fall. So, if I’m registered Republican, I get my say between their nominees in the spring!

    Some people think that’s dumb; I say it’s smart.

  5. jim says:

    Frankly I think it is wrong and dishonest to jump political parties or register for the opposing party just to influence the candidates at the primary level. You are either a Republican or a Democrat or neither. Its not right to pretend to be a Republican or Democrat for a year just to have your say in a party that you are not really a member of.

    Pick a side and stick to it. Democrat, Republican, Other or none of the above.

    If you’re truly an independent then don’t meddle.

  6. Tracy says:

    Well, I have to disagree with Jim’s “If you’re truly an independent then don’t meddle” – because that implies that Trent (or any independent) doesn’t have a right to their political opinions and beliefs being reflected in the candidate they have to choose from.

    I think it’s a particularly important strategy when you’re in a district that leans heavily against you anyway – whether that’s going for liberal republicans or conservative democrats or focusing on the niche issues that matter most to you.

    On the other hand, like valleycat1, I AM very unclear as to what it is Trent is trying to do with his party affiliations. Although I am glad he’s finally stopped putting that disclaimer that he tries to keep politics off this blog!

  7. Tracy says:

    What I DO find weird is that he’s said in the past that he believes that local politics matter more than national politics – but that in order to have a ‘voice’ on the national level, he’s theoretically sacrificing some of his ability to make an impact in local politics.

  8. Johanna says:

    On independents: In general, I agree with Tracy, but in the specific political climate we have today, I agree with jim. “Independent voter” conjures up an image of a strong-minded, well informed individual who rises above political partisanship. There may be some people like that, but the gap between Republicans and Democrats these days is so great that for most people, if they don’t clearly identify with one side or the other, it’s because they’re not paying attention. And if people like that were to stay out of politics as much as possible, it would be an improvement.

    I do disagree with jim that it’s somehow wrong to choose your party registration in part based on where you’ll have the most impact. Is it also wrong for someone whose beliefs align most closely with the Green party to register as a Democrat? I don’t think it is.

  9. Tracy says:


    Well, there is that – I absolutely agree that I wish people who didn’t seriously consider the issues and really understand why they’re voting the way they do wouldn’t meddle.

    Of course, in my biased view, that applies to be the straight-ticket voters themselves – not the ones that involve themselves in the primaries, but the ones who just rubber stamp a party candidate without really educating themselves on where they stand.

  10. John says:

    I don’t think it’s fair to caucus for a party you have no loyalty for. Why do you think Democrats are forbidden from GOP caucuses/primaries (and vice versa)? It’s because caucuses/primaries are for the people who have the most stake in the party’s future.

    It’s not illegal to switch parties every time there’s an incumbent election, but it breaks the spirit of the rules. It would be like me voting in British elections. Technically allowed to, but I haven’t lived there for decades. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to vote because I don’t have the same stake in British elections as the people who live in Britain.

  11. Johanna says:

    @John: But if it’s likely (or even just possible) that the winner of the Republican primary will win the general election, doesn’t everyone have a stake in the outcome of that election?

  12. lurker carl says:

    Switching between the parties according to candidate volume reeks of passive-aggressive behavior.

  13. Gretchen says:

    Do other people do this?

    As much as I already dislike our current primary system, this makes it even worse.
    Something about it just seems “dirty” to me.

  14. Evita says:

    This is so bizarre. Where is the loyalty, the commitment ? party members count on each other to share values and actions, and then Trent is so proud to be a turncoat…

  15. Tracy says:

    Well, I don’t personally do it but I can absolutely see the value in it – although it definitely depends on your motives.

    If someone is doing this so that he is sincerely trying to pick the Republican candidate that he would most like to represent him – that he’d be most willing to elect when it comes down to it, than I think it firmly is fair.

    Where it gets dirty is when somebody is trying to do it to purposefully get somebody nominated that they don’t think is electable.

    Trent says he self-identifies as independent, but he absolutely has as much at stake in who is elected president as someone who identifies republican or democrat.

  16. Allie says:

    You know, I tried to respond to this post from work earlier today, and for the third time in a week, my comment got stuck in moderation. I don’t know what Trent’s problem with my workplace IP is that his system feels the need to chuck all my comments into moderation, but that wouldn’t bother me if it seemed like he ever went through the moderation queue and approved things. But, no, there it is, my inoffensive comment on last week’s dinner post (posted 8/26, a single sentence about a variation on the recipe) is still hanging out in moderation-land. If reader participation isn’t important enough to Trent for him to actually go through the moderation queue and separate the inoffensive from the offensive, then his site and the comments aren’t important enough to me to spend the time and page views to support it.

  17. jim says:

    Everyone gets to vote in the general election.
    If your an independent and you dislike one of the candidates running a party’s primary/caucus and that candidate is chosen by that party in the party primary/caucus then you can vote against them in the general election.

    Joining a party just to vote down a candidate in a primary is meddling in the other party’s affairs. I don’t think it should be allowed, but I don’t know how they can possibly police it. Again, if you don’t like that person then vote against them in the general election.

    I think participating in your own party should matter more. I think participating in a randomly chosen party for your own entertainment or just to be disruptive is dumb and dishonest.

    If you’re an independent then that means you aren’t in a party because your beliefs don’t match any of the parties enough for you to join them.

    If you join the democrats because you (correctly) think the greens have no chance of winning an election and then you also vote for the democrats then thats fine with me. Joining the democrats to vote for a democrat in a primary and then voting for a green in the general election doesn’t make much sense to me. Again I feel that is just dishonest meddling.

    I think we need less duplicity in politics, not more.

  18. jim says:

    Johanna said :

    “@John: But if it’s likely (or even just possible) that the winner of the Republican primary will win the general election, doesn’t everyone have a stake in the outcome of that election?”

    That is one situation I can see as an exception.

    I still don’t love the idea on principal, but it makes more sense there.

    I’m thinking of those situations where 80% of the population always votes for one party or another. In those cases the election is really decided at the primary level before it even gets to the general election. Sometimes the minority party doesn’t even bother to put a serious candidate on the ballot.

    That is not the case in the Iowa presidential caucus of course.

  19. Steven says:

    I’ve always voted Democrat, but this year I’ll be participating in the Republican primary. The way I look at it, if the Republican candidate were to be elected President, it affects me which Republican candidate ends up with their name on the ballot. For that reason, it’s in my interest as a citizen of the United States to vote for whichever Republican candidate I feel is best suited for the position of President.

    I’m beginning to dislike the two-party, us against them, politics that we’ve seen lately. And I don’t consider voting in the primary elections of either party stepping across party lines unless you are doing so simply to thwart the efforts of the other side. And actually, in doing that, you’re running the risk of putting a weak candidate who doesn’t have the capability to lead in the position of a possible win. Remember, there are people who will vote for a party regardless of the credentials of the candidate. With our divided nation, it’s a particularly dangerous strategy.

    Personally, though, I will vote in any election that I feel will influence my life. The Republican primary is one of those elections.

  20. Des says:

    @Johanna – “There may be some people like that, but the gap between Republicans and Democrats these days is so great that for most people, if they don’t clearly identify with one side or the other, it’s because they’re not paying attention.”

    I see this as the other way around – that the gap between Republicans and Democrats is so great that most people will NOT clearly identify with one side or the other. There are so very many issues to be divided about, what are the odds that my opinions on ALL (or even many) of them will line up with one party. For example, I believe in abortion AND capital punishment, in gay rights AND gun rights, in separation of church and state AND stringent fiscal policy. To which party to I belong? I just have a hard time believing that most people who are paying attention can fall squarely with one party or the other. (And, it seems, if you choose an “off brand” party, your vote may as well be worthless.)

  21. Johanna says:

    @Des: By “the gap between Republicans and Democrats,” I mean something more, or at least different, than the parties’ standard positions on a handful of hot-button issues. For example, you’ve got Republicans in Congress turning against their own positions whenever the Democratic President shows some interest in those same positions. To say “I’ll vote for the candidate who best represents my views on a few issues (or the candidate I’d most like to have a beer with), regardless of their party affiliation” is just naive, when party affiliation is so critically important to how the politics plays out.


    @ Johanna
    I like your example of Republicans turning against their positions. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say all politicains. In 2010, the district I live in replaced a self described “fiscally conservative” Democrat who supported every big government program Nancy Pelosi rammed through the House. It is also interesting that you fail to mention how the President has changed his position on the national debt from his few days as Senator to his time as President.

  23. Johanna says:

    @RAND: It’s not “changing one’s position on the national debt” to oppose uncontrolled deficit spending during a good economy but to favor some deficit spending during a bad economy. It’s a perfectly sensible, consistent position.

    Republicans (and probably some others, but I mostly hear it from Republicans these days) like to harp on how the federal government is just like a family sitting around its kitchen table. It isn’t, generally, but in this respect it sort of it. When times are good, a sensible family puts some money aside (or pays down some debt, which in this case is equivalent) in preparation for a rainy day. Then, when the rainy day comes (a pay cut, job loss, or unexpected expense), they can tap their emergency fund, or even use credit cards to tide them over. (Most families don’t have access to credit cards that charge negative interest rates after inflation, but if they did, they would surely use them in situations like that.)

    A sensible family does not spend every penny it has and then some during good times. Nor, when faced with a pay cut or job loss, does it stop paying for necessary medicine or home maintenance (that’s likely to turn into a more expensive problem if neglected) rather than use a low-interest credit card. Nor does it completely rule out the possibility of looking for a better paying job.

  24. CMT says:

    #16 Allie, I agree. I’ve even emailed and asked to have my comments moderated (mailbag about parents buying teens a car), and no response. I want to be part of the conversation, and I can’t.

  25. Gretchen says:

    Back during the recap Sundays, I had a year old comment in moderation.

    It was about browning a beef for stew.

  26. Georgia says:

    @Jim #5 – I am an independent. I used to call myself I was a Republicrat until I read in a political magazine that if you don’t vote straight party, you are neither. I was raised that way. My father always said to never, ever vote straight party. There are always good people on both sides, especially locally, and whichever party gets in power – they abuse it. I now agree with him after 63 years of voting. I vote Republican in the primaries because they are the minority in my area and need all the help they can get. We always need pros and cons in every situation. Isn’t it strange? I found out that there are liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats. Who’d a thought!!

    Johanna#23 – You have the stats backward. We in the financial community have known this for ages. The most saving Americans do is during hard times; very little is done during good times.
    In good times you see no need to save, everthing is hunky, dorey. During hard times you know you have to save if you want to acquire something.

  27. Joel Taylor says:

    I’m catching up on blog posts and just got to this one.
    I’m moving back to Iowa in time for the caucuses and will be doing the same thing that you are. In 2004 I was a precinct captain for a Democrat candidate. This January I will be caucusing for a Republican candidate and helping launch a petition for a plank of the state of Iowa Republican Party platform. I feel that working with both parties is the best way to see progress on the issues that matter to me, and the Iowa Caucuses are one way to make that happen.

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