The Wall, The Caucus and The Theatre: Tales of the US Election


Welcome to guest blogger Colin Smith, who is going to bring us through the theatricality of the Iowa Caucus and all things American politic!

If you’re anything like me, depending on when you’re reading this, you might be thinking: “What am I doing reading a youth theatre blog right now? It’s only a matter of days before the Iowa Caucus and there isn’t any time to spare.” Well, fear not, you handsome devil, because we’re going on a journey down election boulevard to the magical state of Iowa and the voting method with the most theatrical potential: the caucus system.

IOWA AND ITS IMPORTANCE Iowa is largely considered to be a mostly conservative state, and for good reason. Their Governor is a Republican, their State Senators are all Republicans and three of their four House Delegates are Republicans. It is, however, also the first presidential primary state and a ‘swing state’ (either party could potentially win there in a general election), so an early win or loss for a candidate here has the potential to make or break their campaign. This was certainly the case in 2008 when the presumptive nominee, Hillary Clinton, suffered an early loss to then Senator, Barack Obama and went on to lose the Democratic nomination. It is typically less important for the Republicans.

THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE Both political parties begin their nomination process with a caucus in Iowa. We’ll get to what that means in a moment, but first, a run-down of the political landscape. America’s political world is dominated by two parties: the Democrats and the Republicans. These parties and their candidates, in theory, stand either on the left (progressive) or right (conservative) of the political spectrum, respectively.

THE CANDIDATES: In the blue corner to the far-left of the political spectrum, we have the former independent senator from Vermont, Bernie ‘The Bern’ Sanders. Fighting for healthcare reform, free public college, a $15 minimum wage, breaking up the six big banks and rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure. His opponent on the Democratic side is former First Lady and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Clinton is a long-time advocate for women’s rights, comprehensive gun control, having a strong Gmail password and taking campaign donations from Wall Street. Their Republican counterparts include businessman and neo-fascist, Donald Trump and dark horse, Ted Cruz – a senator from Texas and possible Sith Lord. Their policies include building a “great great” wall at the border with Mexico, deporting 11,000,000 undocumented immigrants, banning Muslims from entering the US by establishing a religious test and abolishing essential government agencies like the IRS (Internal Revenue Service). Other candidates include Republicans: Marco ‘The Kid Wonder’ Rubio, Carly ‘Literal Dead Babies’ Fiorina, Ben ‘Sorry, I Dozed Off… I’m Running for What?’ Carson and Jeb ‘The Family Disappointment’ Bush. The other Democrat is Martin O’Malley, the former Governor of Maryland, who may or may not also be the mayor/milkman of a fictional town in the imagination of a small child.

THE CAUCUS SYSTEM: In the beginning I mentioned that the caucus system is the most “potentially theatrical” voting system, but how is that? Don’t you just go the hell on in and vote like a normal dang election? Well, if you’re voting in the Republican caucus, yes. You just put your vote down on a piece of paper, put in in the dang box and walk the heck out. If you’re voting Democrat, however, the system is a little different. In a democratic caucus, supporters of all the candidates are given time to persuade both undecided voters and supporters of their opponents to join their group. This is a vastly different voting experience, since you usually have to hide your allegiance at voting centres. Expressing your political standpoint would usually get your vote cancelled, but in the Iowa caucus, it is part of the system. This leaves seemingly endless possibilities for expressing support for your chosen candidate. Either through costume or your planned speech, the sky would appear to be the limit in terms of the possibilities for artistic nonsense in a caucus. That said, there probably are restrictions of some kind, but we can dream. After everyone has finished speaking in support of their candidates, the voting process begins. This is also extremely different to most legitimate voting methods. As opposed to placing your vote in a box as an anonymous ballot, you have to stand in a cluster with other voters who support your candidate and, basically, the candidate with the biggest cluster wins. If one of the candidates doesn’t have enough support, their voters must join another group. There’s a lot of other slightly more complicated mumbo-jumbo about precincts and delegates, but essentially it all sounds a bit like something we’d do in one of our drama workshops, not a method of electing the most powerful person on Earth.

WHY THIS ELECTION IS IMPORTANT: This past year in Ireland, we experienced a referendum that captured the enthusiasm and passion of first-time voters and young people like many had never seen before. It would appear that this election is doing the same for the young people of the US. With a sea of candidates spouting far-right, xenophobic, homophobic, racist and sexist talking points, many young people are looking for a candidate that represented their views and world view. By and large, they seem to have found that candidate in Bernie Sanders. His campaign has received the most individual donations of any political campaign in American history and he has come from 8% support among Democrats being neck and neck with Hillary Clinton in Iowa and having a 20% lead on her in the nest primary state of New Hampshire. Sanders’ popularity among young people and Clinton’s lack of popularity are both largely due to the influence of social media and the internet. We’ve recently seen crowds of young people attending Sanders rallies nationwide and phone-banking for him, not only for High School credit, but for their own satisfaction. We’ve seen thousands of millennials expressing their support for Sanders on social media through the hashtag #FeelTheBern and engaging in heated political debate with the supporters of other candidates. While young people tend to be under-represented in politics, a referendum like the one we had in 2015 and a candidate like Bernie come along once in a while that sparks the passion of the young and inspires them to act. While many don’t agree with his politics, even the nay-sayers can’t seem to deny that there seems a political revolution afoot and outsiders like Sanders and Trump are right at the centre. Depending on the outcome of the aforementioned magical Iowa caucus and other early states, we could be in for a truly historic election, the outcome of which could very well be in the hands of the young.