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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Caucus chaos and political apathy

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It has been said of Carleton, as well as of campuses across the country, that “apathy is the biggest student group.” On a broader scale, millennials (for whatever that term is worth) are perceived as apathetic, cynical, and politically tuned out. All of that may or may not be true. Regardless, in a political system where money is flowing and voters are staying home, that attitude would be understandable. And the stakes are high: What is our appetite for politics, and how do we interact with those political forces? Are our campus and generation tuned out beyond repair? Have we given up on the political process as an avenue for change and the government as guarantor of our rights and freedoms?

Answers to these questions will likely remain elusive until at least March 1, known as Super Tuesday, when Carleton students and voters across Minnesota and 14 other states and territories will participate in their respective primaries and caucuses to nominate candidates for national, state, and local offices.

For those who choose to participate, the process can range in levels of complexity. In the Iowa Republican caucus on February 1, voters will simply show up and cast a ballot. But Democratic National Committee rules require more of a process. In Minnesota, Political Science Professor Steven Schier told The Carletonian, a caucus official will explain the process to everyone in the room.

First, caucusgoers will divide themselves into groups associated with either a candidate or an issue. In order to earn delegate representation at the next level, a group must represent at least 15 percent of those present. The process of negotiation and splitting up small groups “can take quite a while to work out,” said Professor Schier. And that exact process is occurring simultaneously at hundreds of precinct caucuses across the state.

If this system seems more complex than bubbling in a scantron, that’s because it is. Before the 2008 Iowa Caucus that jumpstarted then-Sen. Barack Obama’s underdog presidential campaign, a number of media outlets published stories claiming that the system discouraged participation, and Professor Steven Schier agrees. “The costs of participation are very high. You’ve got to find the location; you’ve got to be willing, in the middle of winter, to spend several hours at a meeting with people, most of whom you don’t know. All that’s costly,” Schier said.

For their part, political groups across campus are doing their best to encourage and prepare students to caucus in March. The CCCE is planning to bring a non-partisan caucus trainer to campus either sixth or seventh week, and the CarlDems dedicated their last meeting to discussing how to participate in the caucus system.

The Carleton Students for Bernie Sanders group has discussed the possibility of bringing an additional caucus trainer to campus but has postponed the plan for the moment. “If we do we will send out lots of emails about it,” said last week’s club leader Julia Miller ’18.

The Sanders campaign has good reason to care about caucuses. President Obama’s insurgent campaign in 2008 relied heavily on caucus states, like Iowa and Minnesota, to deliver the nomination. “I think [caucuses help] the candidate whose supporters are most motivated,” Professor Schier said, citing Sen. Sanders in this year’s race.

The Sanders campaign seems to agree. Last week, Politico published an article with the headline, “Sanders taps Obama playbook,” in which chief Sanders strategist Tad Devine outlined the campaign’s rationale for pursuing an approach that focused efforts heavily on caucus states.

What remains unanswered is whether Bernie 2016 can match Obama 2008. “Nobody has seen a caucus operation like Obama had in 2008, and there’s nothing going on in Iowa right now that resembles that,” said Professor Schier. While Carleton students may be more politically engaged than most other college students because of an interest in public affairs and academic ability, he said, this year “doesn’t compare to 2008…. While there’s some excitement, and some people ‘Feel the Bern,’ you haven’t seen anything like Obama ‘08 on this campus…. The level of organizational sophistication and thor- oughness was extraordinary.”

Senator Sanders’ path to nomination certainly won’t be any easier than Obama’s was. The number of caucus states has fallen dramatically since 2008, and those that remain tend to be smaller states because of the complexity of the process. But with caucuses becoming increasingly rare and the backdrop of Super Tuesday, Minnesota could become a crucial battleground in the democratic presidential primary. With former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claiming a commanding 34-point lead in the state, the Sanders campaign has a lot of work ahead to make up ground.

In a New York Times/CBS News poll just last month, 68 percent of Americans said the country was on the wrong track, and over the next four weeks, Carleton students will join voters across the country in choosing the candidate they find best prepared to get the country back on the right one.

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