Taking Students to the Iowa Caucus: An Experiential Approach to American Politics

Phillip Ardoin, Professor of Political Science at Appalachian State University, is a guest contributor for the RAISE the Vote Campaign. The views expressed in the posts and articles featured in the RAISE the Vote campaign are those of the authors and contributors alone and do not represent the views of APSA.

20 students and faculty from Appalachian State University will depart from Boone, NC on January 30, 2020, on a 14-hour van journey to Iowa for #App2Iowa 2020.  While in Iowa, the group will attend a wide variety of campaign events, meet with several campaign staffers, and hopefully experience the unique energy of the first-in-the-nation Iowa Caucus. We will spend four days traveling throughout the state chasing candidates and depart on February 3rd after serving as caucus observers for several precincts in Iowa City.

During our four days in Iowa, our home base will be Cedar Rapids, IA. The Cedar Rapids location will provide us with cost-efficient housing within two hours driving distance of most of the candidates’ campaign events scheduled for the weekend prior to the caucuses. As with the #App2Iowa 2016 course, each evening students will utilize the Des Moines Register’s Candidate Tracker to discuss and plan the following days’ activities. This year, two vans will enable both students and faculty to select their preferred agenda for chasing candidates each day. The previous #App2Iowa class in 2016 attended more than 10 campaign events and saw eight candidates including Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Martin O’Malley.

The excitement and energy of a campaign event are truly magical.

The goal of the #App2Iowa 2020 course is to provide both students and faculty with an opportunity to directly experience the presidential campaign process and to observe the Iowa Caucus.  While we have all watched presidential candidates’ speeches and campaign commercials and even read their various policy proposals, observing a candidate on the stump campaigning for your vote is an unparalleled experience. The excitement and energy of a campaign event are truly magical.  In preparation for our January 30th departure, we will hold three class meetings to discuss a variety of readings related to Presidential campaigns and the Iowa Caucus. Of course this will include, Why Iowa?: How Caucuses and Sequential Elections Improve the Presidential Nominating by David P. Redlawsk, Caroline J. Tolbert, and Todd Donovan.  During our time in Iowa, the students will be engaged on social media posting their observations of the campaigns under the #App2Iowa hashtag and also writing for our local and university newspapers.

As with our previous #App2Iowa course, we are sure this experience will inspire many of our students to be more engaged in the 2020 Presidential campaigns and perhaps pursue careers in electoral politics.

All of the faculty and students participating in this year’s #App2Iowa course are excited and counting down the days to our January 30th departure.  As with our previous #App2Iowa course, we are sure this experience will inspire many of our students to be more engaged in the 2020 Presidential campaigns and perhaps pursue careers in electoral politics.  For the faculty, we look forward to developing new research and teaching ideas as a result of observing both the campaign events and Iowa caucus.  If you are interested in following us throughout our Iowa adventures, follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook at #App2Iowa.


Phillip J. Ardoin is Professor of Political Science at Appalachian State University. He serves with Paul Gronke as Co-Editor of PS: Political Science and Politics. He has served as President of the North Carolina Political Science Association and Director of the Department of Government and Justice Studies’ graduate program in Political Science at Appalachian State.

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