With so many young people interested in participating in this year’s Democratic caucuses — and with so many needing help registering to vote — the planned 7 p.m. start at one University of Iowa precinct site was pushed past 8 p.m., with participants just starting to align with their preference groups at 8:03 p.m.
Adding to the chaos at the Iowa Memorial Union — with 762 in attendance — was a power outage, during which the site leader continued reading from his script while students whooped and whipped out their cellphone flashlights.
Despite the delays, UI freshman Abigail Bright, 18, of Chicago, was lined up early among the Pete Buttigieg supporters.
“I like the fact that he’s young, and he’s more of a millennial and can relate to the younger generations,” Bright said. “I love where he stands on all the issues. … And I’m not a huge fan of Sanders or Warren or Biden or anyone else.”
Recent polling showed the potential for historic youth participation in this year’s Iowa caucuses, with a survey from the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement recently indicating 35 percent of Iowans ages 18 to 29 said they were “extremely likely” to caucus.
Such participation would represent a threefold increase in the estimated youth participation in 2016, according to the research, which seemed to materialize inside — and outside — the Memorial Union’s student-heavy precinct Monday.
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While hoards of rowdy civic-minded youths chanted back and forth in favor of their preferred presidential prospects, dozens more lined the staircases and hallways outside, waiting to sign in or register.
“Should I put my home address in Missouri?” one student asked UI freshman Caleb Slater, 19, who volunteered to help register caucusgoers at the door.
“No,” Slater responded, “Just put your dorm address here.”
Before he could talk about why he’s supporting Bernie Sanders, another student came over with another question, which Slater said isn’t a surprise — considering the 250-plus who turned out for the UI mock caucus Friday.
“Bernie’s what got me into politics in 2016, and I think there are a lot of other people on that ship,” he said. “I was kind of waiting for him to run in 2020. I saw one of Elizabeth Warren’s first rallies when she first announced, but I was like, ‘OK, I’m not going to commit yet because like I think Bernie might run.’ And then he did, so I was like, ‘OK, well, I’m supporting Bernie.’”
At the end of the evening, it was four delegates for Sanders, three for Elizabeth Warren and two for Buttigieg.
On the Coe College campus in Cedar Rapids, Monet Malone, 19, of Shenandoah, turned out to support Buttigieg but said she could go for Amy Klobuchar — although Klobuchar didn’t seem to have critical mass to remain viable.
“I am a registered Republican, but changed to Democrat so I can participate here,” Malone said. “I want a non-polarizing candidate, and I feel Buttigieg and Klobuchar are that.”
Even off the local college campuses, young people turned out, as in Coralville, where Nicole Tabatabai, 25, had to get out of line briefly to switch her registration from Independent to Democrat. But standing in long lines gave her time to contemplate her choice, which she still hadn’t made by 6:45 p.m.
“I have a top three,” she said, naming Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg, in that order.
When asked why she didn’t have one favorite, Tabatabai said, “There are just certain things about each candidate I’m not super happy about.”
The youth interest in this year’s caucus extended to those unable to participate — and a busload of them pulled up outside the Coralville Performing Arts Center to catch some of the action. Culver Academies, a boarding school in Indiana, brought 28 students from an Advanced Placement Government class to observe the caucuses.
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“I’m really interested to see how a caucus works,” said Amina Shafeek-Horton, 17, from Charlotte, N.C. “I’ve seen videos and documentaries that our teachers showed in the class, but I think it will be interesting to hear what local people are saying and hear their perspectives on the candidates.”
Shafeek-Horton will be able to vote in November and said she wants to learn more about the candidates.
“Maybe my opinions will be swayed by listening to the people here, too.”
Kirkwood Community College student Jon Wenger, 19, said the 2020 presidential election will be his first, and so he visited a Republican caucus site in Cedar Rapids because he’s leaning toward supporting Trump.
“He doesn’t tiptoe around things,” Wenger said. “He’s straight to the point.”
That being said, Wenger said, he was not set on supporting the president’s reelection and plans to read up on former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and former Illinois U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, too.
“I think it’s important that people my age are able to be in politics and know what they’re doing,” he said. “That’s the way it is in the U.S. We vote, and that’s how our voice is heard.”