Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Communication in the 2016 Iowa Caucus ... By Lauren Beeslee

During my time in Iowa during the 2016 caucuses, I witnessed the media and politicians use various communications tactics. For example, advertisements purchased by Super-PACs dominated TV commercial breaks that presented candidates in both a positive and negative light. These advertisements stretched from TVs in inner city Des Moines to small-town Iowa.
The most prominent development in communications in this election was the development of a new app by Microsoft for the Democratic Party. The app was used by all the precincts to record their results, and automatically tabulated the statewide result. This was useful to party officials as well as the media. 
I spoke to a Sky News Arabia correspondent who was reporting in downtown Des Moines, who was using the app as part of his broadcast. He said he was able to broadcast live while using a split screen with the app, showing viewers real time results as the app automatically tabulated them. Particularly in the complicated mathematics of the caucuses, this app made it much easier for reporters to translate the meaning of the results to viewers.
Communication in campaigns took a very specific road in the last few days before the caucus. Instead of spreading the word about policy ideas and plans, the Hillary Clinton campaign focused simply on reminding people the time and place of their caucus. This was unlike the TV advertisements that had been running for months prior. It made the campaign communication strategy seem mellow, almost.
It seemed like the Clinton campaign rallies attempted to give off a very down to earth vibe by taking place in high school sports gyms and on college campuses. It avoided an instant spectacle due to the generally basic setup. During a rally on Sunday in a high school in Des Moines, Clinton walked freely with a microphone on a small stage that had no podium, and instead simply had two stools to perch on if necessary. In accordance with the casual strategy, they did not end up using the stools.
Caucuses are assumed to be very interactive experiences, but I was surprised by the lack of communication in the process. Once people were registered and in candidate or “undecided” groups, the precinct captains of each candidate read their statements before the first vote count. These speeches were an important part of showing off the policies of the candidates, but most voters had already made their mind up and were not swayed at this time. 
Similarly, once realignment occurred, people from both candidate groups attempted to persuade the undecided or other unviable groups. Therefore, they did not focus on the voters that were already in a candidate group, but possibly could have been swayed. However, I heard that this communication did occur in very close precincts where there was one voter between the two candidates.

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