Iowa caucus reveals unsavory side of American political system

Reagan Stuart

In shades of Florida in 2000, Monday night’s Democratic Iowa Caucus revealed that the voting process in the country does not always run as smoothly as we would like to imagine. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton finished a mere 0.3 percentage points apart, the closest finish in the history of the party. Like the start of a football game, coin tosses decided at least seven precincts. One cannot help but wonder if this is a signal of larger issues. 

The problems do not end there. There was the media’s ambiguity about events on the ground, leaving election watchers across the country in a state of confusion, and further undermining the public faith in the mainstream news. In one of the precincts decided by coin toss, 60 people seemingly disappeared when it came time to count the votes. With a race this close and this contentious, the flaws became frustratingly evident. 

The fact that supposedly democratic elections were decided by nothing more than 50-50 chance is hardly democratic. It is a cry for the modernization of the voting process. Surely the United States, proclaimed defender of democracy around the world, can spare the resources to invest in the most modern voting system.

As if the implementation of the voting weren’t bad enough, the mainstream media’s treatment of it was even worse.  In the confusion and aftermath of the caucus, the media’s tendency to support the “establishment” candidates was very clear. CNN loudly proclaimed “Hillary Clinton wins Iowa caucuses,” when in reality she barely edged Sanders. Simultaneously, coverage of the Republican caucus indicated that somehow Marco Rubio, who finished third, was the real winner. This inconsistent coverage only serves to confuse the public, crediting the candidates who fit the role the media wants while ignoring the actual results. 

Journalism professor Robert Jensen says that the media’s coverage is biased in favor of Clinton.

“From coverage throughout the nominating process, it’s clear that mainstream corporate/commercial journalists are more comfortable with Clinton than with Sanders,” Jensen said. 

The desire to create a narrative structure fits the media’s goals. Focusing on campaign strategy and momentum allows the media to create whatever story they’d like. Clinton is portrayed as the chosen leader, having patiently waited her turn. Rubio is the young, energetic upstart with bright ideas. The specifics of their platform need not be discussed. Just as during the lead-up to the Super Bowl we heard backstories about players from each team, the election is being depicted as a competition between personalities, not a question over the future of government. 

However, politics is not just for sport. Lives do not hang in the balance of the 2016 Super Bowl. The outcome of this election will have real consequences for millions, perhaps billions, of people. The media’s portrayal of the events as high drama obscures the fact that as American citizens we are tasked with choosing the person best equipped to head our government for the next four years. If we wish to be responsible voters, it is best to disregard any talk of momentum or strategy, and focus on the actual substance that the candidates very willingly provide.

Stuart is a Plan II and business honors sophomore from Lubbock. Follow him on Twitter @RealReaganStu.