The Iowa caucus is so complicated, it can only be explained using Legos.

You may be hearing a lot about the Iowa caucus lately. If you are, you may be wondering just what the hell it is.

Or how it works. Or why it matters. Or where Iowa is. All good questions.


Iowa is right under Minnesota, by the way. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

The Iowa Caucus is the first nominating event in a presidential election. It's the first time a candidate can actually win something, which makes it a pretty big deal.

Sure, winning the Iowa caucus doesn't mean you'll become the president (71% of Democrats and only 43% of Republicans who've won the caucus went on to win the nomination), but it is a landmark vote that carries a significant amount of weight and that people pay a lot of attention to.

Winning the Iowa caucus is like losing your virginity: It may not be the most important thing you ever do, and it's definitely not indicative of how things will go from now on, but you never forget your first.

Current GOP front-runner Donald Trump has been steadily campaigning in Iowa. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Have you ever asked how voting in the caucus even works? Because the answer is pretty weird.

On the Republican side, things are pretty simple. Everyone shows up at a caucus location for their district (like a school or public building) and listens to representatives for each candidate give a speech. After that, the voters cast a secret ballot and go home.

The process on the Democratic side is much more complicated.

So complicated, in fact, that it's nearly impossible to explain without Legos, Post-its, and some sticks. Thankfully, that's exactly what Vermont Public Radio did.

First, the campaigns find the most politically active Iowans. Then, those politically active Iowan voters stand in areas of the caucus room that indicate which candidate they support.


GIF from Vermont Public Radio/YouTube.

That's right, the Democratic caucus voting process involves citizens literally picking corners of the room and standing there.

Then there's a headcount. If a candidate has less than 15% of the crowd's support in their (literal) corner, they are considered "unviable" and are removed from contention.

Any voters who supported an unviable candidate go back into the center of the room, where the remaining candidate's supporters have to convince those people to join their corners of the room.


After that, another headcount. This process is repeated until a single winner emerges for that district.

For example: This year in Iowa, Martin O'Malley will most likely be the first candidate declared "unviable," at which point supporters of Sanders and Clinton will have to convince the O'Malley supporters to come to their sides of the room.

If that all sounds strange to you, that's because it is.

The caucus system is not a one-person/one-vote system at all. Instead, it's a strange focus-group-meets-reality-competition-show.

As you can imagine, the caucus system has received a fair amount of criticism over the years.

For one thing, the hours-long event is held at 7 p.m. on a cold weeknight in February.

Which isn't exactly a great time for the elderly, or working parents, or anyone who likes eating dinner at dinnertime. So certain demographics often don't get represented at the caucuses.

In fact, Iowa's population overall is very unrepresentative of the United States. It's mostly white and has a huge evangelical Christian population.

Basically, holding a caucus in Iowa is like trying to find out what America's favorite cereal is and only asking 8-year-olds.

"Seriously? Count Chocula is the winner? I didn't even know they still made that." Image from iStock.

Perhaps the most alarming flaw in the caucus system, though, is how undecided voters are convinced to support those who remain — it's a process that isn't always done with nuanced political discussion.

See, the highly local and town-hall-sized caucuses are often filled with people who know each other well. Like, really well. They know what favors everyone might need, or what bill might need another "yea" vote, or who might want the opportunity to delegate at the Democratic National Convention.

Some might call it "making compromises," but a lot of times the process sure does look a whole lot like straight-up bribery. For example, in 2008, when Iowa caucus attendee Phillip Ryan didn't know who to support, he was swayed by John Edwards supporters who serenaded him and massaged his shoulders.


Voters at a Rand Paul event in Iowa. Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images.

Even at its least potentially corrupt, the Democratic Iowa caucus can come down to which candidate has the better snacks on their side of the room. Or which undecided voter is just tired of standing around and which corner of the room has a folding chair.

Despite Iowa being demographically unrepresentative and the caucus practices being bizarre, the results are very real.

Winning the caucus may not guarantee that a particular candidate will win the overall election or even get the nomination, but like receiving a $10 gift card on your birthday, it's slightly better than nothing.

After all, when Barrack Obama won the Iowa caucus back in 2008, the entire country had to turn around and say "Wait, who's this guy?"

I predict great things for that young senator. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

Whoever wins the Democratic caucus in Iowa, keep in mind that they did so by successfully convincing people to show up to a high school gym ... or a gun shop or a grain elevator .. at 7 p.m. on a weeknight and sweet-talk other voters.

To put it simply, the caucus is old-fashioned, probably unfair, and definitely not the most democratic system in the world.

But...

The Iowa caucus does have one thing going for it: It still speaks to the power of the people.

Whether by ballot or negotiation, a candidate can only win the Iowa caucus if their supporters participate.

Bernie Sanders has had to mobilize young Iowans to stand a chance at winning the caucus. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

As infuriating as it is to read about all the games, shenanigans, and political horse trading that goes into the caucus process, just remember that at its core, individual voters are still the ultimate decider.

The caucus, like the entirety of the election, is all about voter turnout.

So, hey, while I have your attention. Why not register to vote?

More

On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

Culture
via Cadbury

Cadbury has removed the words from its Dairy Milk chocolate bars in the U.K. to draw attention to a serious issue, senior loneliness.

On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

Cadbury was prompted to help the organization after it was revealed that 225,000 elderly people in the UK often go an entire week without speaking to another person.

Keep Reading Show less
Well Being

Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

WE Teachers
True
Walgreens
via KGW-TV / YouTube

One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

Dr. Ellers believes that this tendency to judge a woman solely on her looks causes them to be seen as an object rather than a person.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture