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Who Really Won the Iowa Caucus? (Hint: It's Not Who You Think)

Image of Iowa, a trophy, and money

Posted on 02/11/2020 at 03:34 PM

First, understand that this is NOT an article about politics.

The Iowa Caucus: What Went Wrong, Why, and What’s Next?

It’s cute when the government tries to get in on the latest trends, isn’t it?

These days, there is an app for everything, so it should come as no surprise that the Iowa Democratic Party decided to use an App to report caucus numbers. It sounded like a great idea, and in concept, it was.

The app was supposed to make the process smoother. It didn’t.

The app was supposed to make the process more transparent and instill trust. It didn’t.

The app was supposed to be easy and remove some of the stress of the night. It wasn’t and it didn't.

The app, created by a small tech company by the name of Shadow Inc, is said to have had issues with crashing days before the event. Many precinct chairs reported not being able to log in, getting kicked out after logging in, and many waited until the last minute to download the software.

"When a light is shining, Shadows are a constant companion. We see ourselves as building a long-term, side-by-side “Shadow” of tech infrastructure to the Democratic Party and the progressive community at large." - https://shadowinc.io/about

It seems that the shadow left caucus-goers feeling cold and frustrated...

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Improper Preparation

Sure, official statements say that there were “coding issues”, but really, I think we can all agree that the issues boiled down to a failure to properly prepare. This wasn’t some new gaming app. This was supposed to be a reliable tool for reporting vital numbers that would help choose a major political party’s presidential nominee. The app should have been tested, retested, and needed backup plans for the backup plans of their backup plans… with a backup plan just in case.

More and more businesses are using mobile applications as tools to connect with their customers. Apps act as a smart and fresh way to communicate, market to customers, offer service, and gather data, so why wouldn’t people trust apps?

Objectively, it was not just the app that failed. The party introduced new rules, new procedures, and even different ways of tabulating the results. They also did not properly communicate expectations (such as downloading the app early), leading to many officials resorting to calling in their numbers. Flooded phone lines thanks to pranksters added to the congestion and confusion.

Honestly, It Could Have Been Worse.

Think politics are crazy now? In 1968 the Democratic Party held its National Convention in Chicago. The event saw the attendance of 10,000 uninvited guests as activists swarmed to protest the Vietnam War and other social issues.

Riots erupted as thousands of law enforcement officers followed by the National Guard were called in to try to keep the peace. In the end, around 300 people were injured and nearly 700 protestors were arrested.

To save face, the Democratic Party decided to involve the public more in the nomination process and extended the nominating schedule.

Before the State convention, Iowa has a long process. First, they hold precinct caucuses, followed by county conventions, then district conventions. Only after all these events have taken place is the state convention held and the Iowa nominee chosen.

What is the benefit of such a long process? Iowa goes first.

That’s right. Iowa’s process is so long and complicated that the Democratic Party decided they should go first.

But wait, there’s more!

Iowa’s honor of holding their caucuses first is not the only benefit of the process. Every four years, presidential hopefuls and their army of PR people, event organizers, handlers, and door knockers rain down across the state.

The volunteers paid representatives, and indeed the candidates themselves all need a place to sleep, eat, and need someone to print their promotional material (and rent the space to hang it- over $1,000 just to hang the banner in some venues).

They also need to pay someone to run those fun local ads (according to some reports, around $63 million in TV ad spend), and drive droves of supporters to local dinners and venues for speeches and meet-and-greet events.

In Des Moines alone, according to the Wall Street Journal, hotel revenue in the week prior to the caucuses generated around $11.5 million in added spending. Being the opportunistic professionals that they are, hotels in Des Moines have been known to boost their prices over 100% or more during this time.

Small Town Love

This love spreads to the small towns across Iowa as the candidates try to shake hands and kiss as many babies as possible in the caucus season. As the tour busses flow through various towns and cities (Grinnell, Iowa was visited multiple times by the Biden campaign), all of the entourage that comes with the candidates enjoy local food and hospitality- all boosting the economies in the process.

Losing First-in-Line?

With the recent kerfuffle with the app reporting numbers slowly, many Iowans and others across the country are calling for Iowa to lose its first-in-line status. Some see this as an appropriate response to slow reporting, often blaming the Iowa Democratic Party. These people fail to recognize that the issue was with the app- created by a company in a different state.

So what if we did lose the tradition of caucusing first? Would the impact really be that bad? Sure, Iowa would still get quite a bump in revenue every four years, but would it really be as high as it has been? Likely not.

So, What Now?

Ultimately, it comes down to technology. If you’re going to build an application (especially one of such importance), testing, re-testing, and redundancies need to be in place long before the launch. The reporting issues should not have happened. Was it wrong to trust an app so completely? Not necessarily. With the right preparation and processes in place, this could have been a historic moment for Iowa and the Democratic Party’s use of technology. The intention was right, the application and processes were wrong. 

At Global Reach, we develop apps, website solutions, and custom development for clients of all sizes. We test our solutions, re-test them, and work closely with our clients to ensure complete satisfaction… before launch, as it should be.

So Who Won the Iowa Caucus?

Iowa did. 

The economy across the state got a huge boost, they conquered the news cycles way more than most election cycles, and they helped shine a spotlight on the process. In a way, the Iowa Democratic Party won too. They learned what not to do and how not to do it.

Hey Political Parties, Want to Build an Application the Right Way?

Next time, call Global Reach! If you're interested in building an app for your business, political party, or other interesting adventures, contact us for more information!

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