You Asked, We Answered: Your Questions About Iowa

Jan 29, 2016

Vermonters have a lot of questions about Iowa. When we asked you, our audience, what you wanted to know ahead of our trip to the Hawkeye State, you sent more than 100 questions via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and Reddit.

Our reporters Patti Daniels, Taylor Dobbs and Peter Hirschfeld fielded your questions. These people are pretty darn good, but they couldn't answer all of them. Here's a selection of your queries, answered with sound, text and video.

"I would like to hear from young people, or any age people, who don’t vote. Why do they think that is OK?" — Beatrice Blake

Patti spoke with a couple of young women in Waterloo, Iowa who explained why they don't caucus. 

Patti reflects on their sentiments: "I thought that was interesting, because she was emphasizing the difference between voting in the general election and showing up to caucus, in what would be a primary for her state."

It is true that a relatively small portion of eligible voters in Iowa show up to caucus. In most years it's around 20 percent, according to the Iowa Caucus Project a Drake University. But in 2008 it was a little bit different, because Iowans were apparently really psyched about Barack Obama, and nearly 40 percent of eligible caucus-goers participated then.

In 2008, there was also a 5 percent increase among young voters, according to the Pew Research Center. And those young voters overwhelmingly supported Obama over Hillary Clinton.

"What even happens at a caucus?" - Kirsten Perry, via Twitter

So, we got a lot of questions about this mysterious political process. How does it work? Who gets to participate? For Iowa Democrats, the process is more like a Vermont Town Meeting than it is like a primary. But, we'll let our Lego friends take it from here:

Still curious? We gathered more information about the caucuses here.

"Iowa is always portrayed as a white state. But it has minority populations that the media always ignores. I once lived in Waterloo, IA, and I know there’s a vibrant black community there. Why don’t you pay them a visit?" - Chris Robbins

Patti Daniels took this question straight to Waterloo. She talked to residents there — but the story of minority voters in Iowa goes beyond this one city.

Since launching his candidacy for president last May, Bernie Sanders has watched his poll numbers explode. But Hillary Clinton continues to hold a major advantage with the black and Latino voters in southern states that vote later in the primary season.

But Iowans get to vote first. Patti Daniels and Peter Hirschfeld have this story about the people of color Sanders is working so hard to win over.

Full story: In Iowa, Support From Black And Latino Voters Is Crucial But Hard To Predict

Sen. Bernie Sanders is trying to make up ground when it comes to connecting with minorities. Iowan Jorge Montes, seen here at a rally in Clinton, Iowa, says Sanders' stance on immigration and health care make him a good choice for Latino voters.
Credit Peter Hirschfeld / VPR

“From where do the various segments of the Iowa voting age population get their news and information? Print, radio, TV, Internet, social media?” - Jackie & Ken Hyman

All of those media are in the mix. An enormous portion of the local radio programming in Iowa right now is dedicated to hashing out the details of the caucus.

The big difference for folks in Iowa is their direct access to candidates. Caucus-goers in the nation's first presidential contest have been accustomed to being wooed, and Iowans expect to attend speeches and even have casual encounters with the presidential candidates they might caucus for.

And many people told VPR they have a very high expectation not just to see the candidates speak, but also to hear detailed speeches and question and answers with audience members. People are not satisfied with a short rally. 

Full story: In Iowa, Small Town Politics Have Big Sway

“Do they really hate us for our freedom?” - Shay Totten, via Twitter

No. In fact, most of the Iowans we met are exceptionally nice people. 

“I want to know how pronounced the so-called 'enthusiasm gap' really is, as that could hugely affect the caucuses ... Can you talk to some younger folks (17-27 maybe?) and see if they really think they'll get to the caucuses?" – vtslim, via Reddit

In the Hawkeye State, many young caucus-goers are feeling the Bern (earlier this month, no less an authority than TeenVogue magazine declared that Bernie Sanders is “killin' it” with millennials), while others are backing Hillary Clinton. Both candidates are vying for the shrinking pool of undecided Democrats before caucus night on Feb. 1. 

Victoria Hansen holds her daughter Ariella in her lap while listening to Sen. Bernie Sanders at a campaign event in Clinton, Iowa. She had attended an event for Hillary Clinton in Iowa City just a few days prior. She likes Clinton's work for gender equality, but she thinks Sanders is good on that front too.
Credit Taylor Dobbs / VPR

Taylor Dobbs and Peter Hirschfeld talked to young people supporting both campaigns. By this account, at least, the "enthusiasm gap" doesn't look quite so wide.

Full story: Young Voters May Hold The Key To Victory In Iowa

“Please explain to New England just how flat it is.” – Austin Federa, via Twitter 

We drove more than 2,000 miles while we were there to get all over the state. But we didn't think it was quite as flat as people imagine. There's tons of open sky, but there are also rolling hills all over the state.


“Since it is a rural state like VT do they like the anti-political speeches from Bernie?” - John Hamerslough

Our team recorded lots of tape of Iowans fired up about Bernie's anti-establishment rhetoric. But there's one man in particular whose story we found interesting.

Larry Ginter is a retired farmer who's lived on the same 180-acre farmland in Rhodes, Iowa (population 350) for his entire life. And he's an ardent Bernie supporter. Peter Hirschfeld spent some time with him.

Full story: Meet A Retired Iowa Farmer Who Is A Devoted Bernie Volunteer

“Besides corn and pigs what else would people from Iowa like to be known for?” - John Hamerslough

Taylor Dobbs put this question to a lot of people he met in Iowa.

"They always say people are really nice in the Midwest," Taylor says. "And we actually heard that Iowa steps it up a notch. We definitely found out that 'Iowa nice' is a thing. We had one cab driver who said that Iowa is the 'Canada of the Midwest' and everyone is really friendly there."

Here’s how Selma Pepic, who we met at a Hillary Clinton rally in Iowa City, explains it.

Speaking about his experience on Vermont Edition, Peter Hirschfeld confirmed that "Iowa Nice" is a thing.

Taylor Dobbs, left, and Iowa native Rocky Malloy became fast friends over the course of just a few hours.
Credit Patti Daniels / VPR

"Iowans were so friendly, so accommodating and really very thoughtful with very few exceptions," Peter said. "Everybody that I approached was happy to offer their insights and their perspective on the race and anything else I wanted to talk about, frankly. They're fiercely proud of Iowa and it was a real pleasure to be out there."

“I understand Iowa has a large percentage of evangelical Christians. Please ask them why they constantly bring this up in politics.” - Jack Himmelsbach, Waitsfield

Richard Queener is from Creston, a small city of 8,000 people.

“If you’re not familiar with it,” Queener told Taylor Dobbs, “southwest Iowa is Republican. The big cities are Democratic.”

He’s still deciding who to caucus for – he’s split between Dr. Ben Carson, who he’s seen three times, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. Jon Kasich. He says he could never support a Democrat because of his religious convictions.

“I’m a pastor,” he says. “I’m an evangelical right-winger all the way.”

To Queener, the Democratic Party’s positions too often contradict the word of God.

“I mean, all right, we’ve killed enough – I don’t know if you ever heard this before – through abortion we’ve killed – if you take west of the Mississippi, take out California, Texas and Washington. That’s how many people we’ve killed.” Queener says. “The people that live in all those other states, that’s how many people have died since we started abortion. That issue alone is enough to make me say I could never vote for a Democrat ... When they brought back partial-birth abortion it sickens me to think we’re killing a 9-month-old baby.”

Full story: In Iowa, Small-Town Politics Have Big Sway

“Is there any buzz about the film The Big Short and how the rhetoric at the end of the screen play seems to line up with a Sanders/Trump idea outline match-off?” - Zoe, Burlington, VT

Funny you should ask. Taylor Dobbs has this report: "One person actually shouted out the title of the film during a Bernie Sanders town hall in Clinton, Iowa. Sanders repeated it and validated it as the kind of financial activity he wants to put an end to."

“Is it true that much of the water in Iowa has been polluted by agricultural runoff?” - Thomas Scanlon

Iowa does have some water quality issues related to agricultural runoff. In fact, the water supplier for Des Moines sued three counties last year over high nitrate levels in the city's water supply. Iowa Public Radio has more on that.


VPR’s coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign is made possible in part by the VPR Journalism Fund.