A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

An embarrassment of riches: reports from the largest Iowa caucus ever

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 4, 2008

One last post about the Iowa caucuses, and I promise to resume blogging about Beirut. Its been a busy week, and I have much to write about: going to lunch in a wedding-mobile, paying my satellite bill (now $3.33 more per month, thanks to satellite broadcaster Orbit’s tussle with the grey marketeers), and rainshowers so intense that my salon nearly flooded.

But I’m still burning with caucus fever, and very pleased at the news that Iowa’s caucuses enjoyed record turnout: 346,000 people participated. That’s 11% of the state’s population – a very solid showing. Here’s what the Register  :

More than 346,000 Democratic and Republican Iowa caucus-goers turned out Thursday night to support their favorite presidential candidate, and in doing so, set historic participation numbers for Iowa’s first in the nation caucuses.

The unprecedented turnout was due largely to the huge numbers of first-time caucus-goers. Barack Obama, who won the Democratic caucus, drew thousands of new participants, including a sizeable number of political independents. In addition, the Iowa Republican party estimated that as many as 30 percent of their caucus participants were new registrants.

The Register’s Iowa Poll published Tuesday forecast the perfect storm that apparently hit Thursday night. The poll showed 60 percent of Democratic caucusgoers would be attending for the first time. It also indicated that 72 percent of Obama’s support would come from first-time caucus-goers.

With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Iowa Democratic Party officials reported 234,000 caucus attendees, compared to 124,000 in 2004. With 93 percent of GOP precincts reporting, 112,349 Republicans had participated in their caucus, up from the 87,666 who participated in 2000.

The downside of all this civic engagement was crowded caucus halls, long lines for registration and too few chairs, earning boos from first-time and veteran caucus-goers alike. The Register covered the glitches, too, with anecdotes like the following two:

The GOP’s caucus at Johnston Middle School began more than an hour late as an estimated 1,000 people tried to cram into the Republican caucus where only 600 ballots were available.

At Karen Acres Elementary School in Urbandale, the Precinct 4 Democratic Party turnout of 384 exceeded the school gymnasium’s fire code capacity of 337. The start of the caucus was delayed when the supply of registration forms for first-time voters was exhausted.

Frustrating as the situation must have been for voters at these caucuses, its difficult for me not to focus on the positives. The more civic participation, the more political engagement, the better :).


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