In-Depth: Previewing the 2020 Iowa Caucuses

In Depth with Brad Byrd

(WEHT) – We should get a first authentic look at how voters really feel next Tuesday as the Iowa Caucuses open up the process of the 2020 presidential election.

Social media is playing an even bigger role and the polls have been all over the place.

Eyewitness News Digital Media Manager Kurt Johnson digs into the numbers every day and he joined Brad Byrd on Thursday to preview the start of voting in the 2020 presidential election.


Brad Byrd: Kurt, first these caucuses in Iowa. How do they work and a lot of people ask if they’re really good at and are these really a good test for picking a president?

Kurt Johnson: Well, to your first question: ‘how do they work?’ They work a little different than what most voters in the Tri-State are familiar with. It’s even different for the Democrats and Republicans in Iowa – there’s a slight difference in the process there. One of the key things in the Democratic process to note is that they don’t vote by ballot is that they physically stand in groups with the candidate that they support. And kind of how the process works, the candidates get delegates based on the proportion of the vote they get. One candidate doesn’t get all the delegates even though it does matter who wins, who gets the most delegates.

BB: And Iowa is considered, we had a report today, it’s considered pretty close to the demographics of the entire country.

KJ: Yeah, we ran a report today that said Iowa is pretty close to the rest of the country – not only demographically but in terms of public opinion. Demographically, one thing that Iowa is really different than the rest of the country in is race. They are whiter than the rest of the country, but when you take into account that South Carolina is one of the first states in primary process – in these first few states, the candidates will be tested in different states that kind of represent the different makeup of the country so it’s a good starting point for them.

BB: And let’s roll some video of the candidates – I call them the top four. The polls have been all over the place as we’ve mentioned. Social media is embedded in all of this and it affects every candidate you see on the screen. But how is that changing because millions of Americans get their primary information from social media?

KJ: Yeah, it’s changing everything. I think we saw in 2016, it played a huge role in the election and the campaign season itself. One thing that’s kind of obvious is it puts power in the hands of the user, of the social media user in two ways. Number one, they can get their own message out there. Number two, they can choose who they’re getting messages from. So, sometimes people talk about bubbles on social media where people are only hearing one side of the argument. I think that is a very real thing. The other thing you get is proliferation of information that’s not necessarily accurate.

BB: Okay, that sends us right to Facebook which has been in a spotlight it probably doesn’t want to be in. Virtual people that have been created, fake news – we’ve heard that term. What’s Facebook doing, what’s social media doing to try to clean this up?

KJ: Well, they are taking steps to try to clean it up. Whether or not that’s been successful is certainly up for debate. One thing Facebook is trying to do is prevent accounts or pages that have been shown to post false information – they’re trying to prevent them from being ads. What the ads would do is potentially is boost a post that might not be from an accurate or reliable source, or to campaign potentially politically for a certain candidate or set of issues and potentially use false information. You know, that’s just one thing they’re doing. They’ve also tried to crack down on links that they know to be false. If you’re on Facebook, there’s actually a way you can report fake news yourself. You can go on there, if you see someone has posted something from an unreliable source or that isn’t accurate, you can actually report that to Facebook and they are supposed to go in there and determine whether or not that is in fact the case. Whatever happens at that point is a mystery to me, but I guess what they probably do is lower those posts in the algorithm so that less people see them.

BB: And the algorithm – we’ve heard that term but basically it controls the content we are seeing. It is up to the individual. We could go on tonight. We’ll continue this discussion throughout the election year. In the old days, it was New Hampshire which was the first primary test but times have indeed changed. Kurt, thank you so much for your input, thank you for your perspective. It is complicated but we appreciate your input.

KJ: Appreciate you Brad.

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(This story was originally published on January 30, 2020)

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