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Presidential candidates arrive at Iowa State Fair

August 18, 2015

Full Lesson


Every four years, the Iowa State Fair serves as one of the first vetting grounds for candidates hoping to win their party’s nomination for president.

The candidates flock to Des Moines hoping to woo Iowa voters, who will meet in local meetings called caucuses in February to choose their state’s delegates to the 2016 Republican and Democratic national conventions.

Since the caucuses take place so early in the year, they have become an initial indicator of the popular candidates. A win in Iowa can mean more money from people who want to pick the winning team. In the past, Iowa voters have favored underdog candidates, which may explain the surges Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders have seen in recent state polls.

Yet past presidential elections have shown that results in Iowa do not predict the national trend. Former presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton all lost in Iowa, but ended up winning the overall election.

Arthur Sanders, a political science professor at Drake University, says the unprecedented number of Republican candidates — a record-breaking 17 — means results in Iowa are likely to have very little impact on the final nomination. Even for the Democratic race, with considerably fewer candidates running, February will be too early to tell, he adds.

The anti-establishment rhetoric of Trump and Sander’s campaigns has drawn notable crowds in Iowa and beyond.

“The American people are growing extremely unhappy with establishment politics, with establishment economics,” Bernie Sanders said.

Warm up questions
  1. When is the next presidential election?
  2. How are presidential candidates selected?
  3. What is a primary election?
  4. What are the Iowa caucuses?
Critical thinking questions
  1. Why is it important for candidates running for president to make an appearance at the Iowa State Fair?
  2. If the Iowa caucuses are not always a reliable predictor of primary outcomes, why is so much emphasis placed upon them?
  3. Why are election experts skeptical about the early show of support for candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump?
  4. Who do you think will win the 2016 presidential election? Why?

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