Poli-sci professor notes ‘presidential’ opportunities for students
Every four years things get a little crazy for associate professor of political science David Redlawsk.
As presidential candidates make forays into Iowa before the state’s first-in-the-nation January caucuses, he speaks almost daily to the media—from local reporters to the New York Times and National Public Radio. He also just wrapped up teaching a first-year seminar on the caucuses and the presidential nomination process as well as a course on local politics. He directs the University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll and is overseeing several student internships involving campaign work.
Iowa, Redlawsk insists, truly is a unique place when it comes to politics. The opportunities are immense and the excitement is palpable. He recently spoke with Parent Times about how students benefit from this environment.
What does the change in Iowa’s political climate mean for UI students?
Iowa is the place to be if you have any interest in political campaigns. It feels like we’re stumbling over presidential candidates at times, and that means students have all kinds of opportunities to work with candidates. I had students in the last campaign, for example, driving John Kerry around and setting up events for John Edwards. This time I’ve got several students interning with Rudy Giuliani. Campaigns need workers, and students are interested and available. They have energy and they bring real excitement to the campaign. It’s a win-win for both sides: students learn a lot about what’s going on in real politics, and candidates get the workers they need to help get people out to the caucuses.
So how is this different than on other college campuses?
Iowa sees the candidates like nowhere else except New Hampshire, so students here can expect to meet the candidates they’re interning for. That’s not true in virtually any other place. There are so many opportunities, and I think that makes it a qualitatively different experience. Students feel much more directly connected to the process by doing it here in Iowa. Caucuses are extremely labor-intensive. You really have to work hard to get people out to caucus. It’s just more exciting and interesting than a primary election.
Do students participate in the caucuses?
It depends on when the caucuses happen. Four years ago, the caucuses were held the day before classes started, and turnout in the student precincts was huge. We had several hundred people caucus at the Iowa Memorial Union, which is primarily a student precinct. It was stunningly large compared to the past, and I think the expectation this year is that students from Iowa, whether they’re caucusing here or at home, will be heavily involved. Campaigns are targeting them, and I think it will have some effect.
The last two presidential elections have been contentious. What do you predict for the Iowa caucuses and for 2008 general election?
The issues at play here are pretty much the issues at play nationally—health care, which affects everybody from senior citizens to students, and the war in Iraq. Iowa is an exciting place to be when the general election comes, because we are a very evenly balanced state. In 2000, Al Gore won the state by 4,000 votes out of 1.8 million, and in 2004, George Bush won it by 10,000 votes out of just under 2 million. Iowa will be one of a handful of battleground states, so that means the campaigns will ramp up large operations near the University and elsewhere in the state before the general election, and students again will have incredible opportunities to be involved.
What is the University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll, and how are students involved with it?
It’s an Iowa-focused poll. It started as a project for teaching and learning—I’m a strong believer in hands-on learning—when my colleague Caroline Tolbert suggested last spring that students in her Intro to Politics course could benefit from survey research and polling. We decided to do a caucus survey to see what people were thinking, and each of the students collected about 10 respondents, around 1,200 total. We realized we had some interesting data, so we wrote a press release and the media picked it up. The provost and the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences found some funding for us to continue with the poll over the cycle of the 2008 election. Students help write the questions, do the calling, and analyze the data, and we are also working on the public relations aspect by helping the public understand the nature of the political environment we’re in. So it’s become a really big project out of something that started off as another way to try to connect students to the real world.
by Sara Epstein Moninger