Campaign 2020

‘They’re clogging up the system’: How 59 Iowans see the 2020 Democratic field

We asked Iowa State Fairgoers to circle the candidates they could name. Their answers are below.

Everyone we asked knew these candidates

Four out of five knew these

Everyone we asked knew these candidates

Four out of five knew these

Everyone we asked knew these candidates

Four out of five knew these

Everyone we asked knew these candidates

Four out of five knew these

Everyone we asked knew these candidates

Four out of five knew these

Bennet

Biden

Booker

Bullock

Buttigieg

Castro

de Blasio

Delaney

Gabbard

Gillibrand

Harris

Hickenlooper

Inslee

Klobuchar

Messam

Moulton

O’Rourke

Ryan

Sanders

Sestak

Steyer

Warren

Williamson

Yang

Bennet

Biden

Booker

Bullock

Buttigieg

Castro

de Blasio

Delaney

Gabbard

Gillibrand

Harris

Hickenlooper

Inslee

Klobuchar

Messam

Moulton

O’Rourke

Ryan

Sanders

Sestak

Steyer

Warren

Williamson

Yang

Bennet

Biden

Booker

Bullock

Buttigieg

Castro

de Blasio

Delaney

Gabbard

Gillibrand

Harris

Hickenlooper

Inslee

Klobuchar

Messam

Moulton

O’Rourke

Ryan

Sanders

Sestak

Steyer

Warren

Williamson

Yang

Bennet

Biden

Booker

Bullock

Buttigieg

Castro

de Blasio

Delaney

Gabbard

Gillibrand

Harris

Hickenlooper

Inslee

Klobuchar

Messam

Moulton

O’Rourke

Ryan

Sanders

Sestak

Steyer

Warren

Williamson

Yang

Bennet

Biden

Booker

Bullock

Buttigieg

Castro

de Blasio

Delaney

Gabbard

Gillibrand

Harris

Hickenlooper

Inslee

Klobuchar

Messam

Moulton

O’Rourke

Ryan

Sanders

Sestak

Steyer

Warren

Williamson

Yang

DES MOINES — Iowans are overwhelmed by the size of the 2020 Democratic presidential field, leaving them with a vital question about the candidates who have been criss-crossing their state for months: Who are you people?

Of the dozens of state fairgoers we spoke to in a radically unscientific survey, all recognized former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.). There were a handful of candidates that almost everyone could identify, but fairgoers struggled to name others, especially those who haven’t participated in debates.

[Quiz: How well do you know the Democratic candidates?]

The Post asked Iowans gathered near two political mainstays at the fair to circle any of the 24 presidential hopefuls they could name. Those locations — the Des Moines Register’s Political Soapbox, where the fair’s version of candidate speed dating takes place, and the WHO-TV booth, where voters placed corn kernels in jars marked with their preferred candidate — were a magnet for political activists and casual observers alike.

Attendees are seen at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 9 in Des Moines. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

Fairgoers pick a 2020 presidential candidate by placing corn kernels into a jar on Aug. 8 in Des Moines. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

Iowans are treated to hundreds of candidate visits over the course of a campaign, and few opportunities exist after Iowa’s caucuses for lesser-known candidates to have a breakout moment.

This story contains audio. Press the button below to enable autoplay.

‘There are too many choices’

Most of the Iowa residents we spoke with were still studying the presidential hopefuls — so numerous that they could nearly fill out an MLB team’s active roster. Many were able to identify some favorites, but were still forming their opinions of the candidates. Several had met candidates during their many campaign visits to the state.

Candidates will need to break through a crowded field to win over Iowa caucus-goers, who probably will narrow the field when they caucus on Feb. 3.

Candidates they recognized

Picture of Jane Gasperi and Andrea Taylor’s filled out survey

Jane Gasperi and Andrea Taylor

Residents of Des Moines and Urbandale

“Yeah the rest are like, ‘Who are they’? … They’re clogging up the system.”

0:16

Candidates they recognized

Picture of Joe and Jennifer Newman’s filled out survey

Joe and Jennifer Newman

Ames, doctor and professor

“Oh yeah, I completely forgot he or she is running.”

0:26

Candidates they recognized

Picture of Anne Matte’s filled out survey

Anne Matte

Disability rights activist

“It’s hard to differentiate a lot of white male candidates in a big field.”

0:16

“I actually came over to listen to him, but I don't know what he looks like,” Des Moines resident Andy Ostbloom said before former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper took the soapbox stage. “Anybody who I don't know who they are, you should drop out.” (Hickenlooper left the race days later.)

“Isn’t he the one that’s for impeachment on the television?” Joey Bolstad of Des Moines asked as she looked over the candidates. “I can’t remember his name.”

That would be Tom Steyer. The billionaire started running a month ago, so he hasn’t been on the debate stage yet, but he spent more than $1 million to fill Iowa’s airwaves with his name and face. The others who fell short of the debates — Wayne Messam, Rep. Seth Moulton (Mass.) and former congressman Joe Sestak (Pa.) — were recognized only by the most politically attuned fairgoers.

Candidates they recognized

Picture of Sue Jones’s filled out survey

Sue Jones

Windsor Heights resident

“I wish it would get narrowed down. And then people can start concentrating on who they like the best and we can start really getting some issues solved.”

0:07

“Certainly some of these people have got to start dropping out,” said Kat Nutt of West Des Moines. “After September, if the funding's not coming in, they're not going to be able to sustain a campaign.”

Not everyone was so worried about the number of candidates.

“We’re six months away yet. We’ve got time,” said Jay Robinson of Ames. “It doesn’t bother me that we got a lot of choices. I think it’s nice to do that for once. And they will winnow out eventually.”

People ride the Skyglider at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 8 in Des Moines. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

‘One of my top picks’

Most Iowans we spoke with had developed a short list of their favorite candidates, but were open to hearing more of what they had to say.

“I’m here to get more information about Julián Castro. He might be in my top five, but he would be five,” said Kathy Welsh of Iowa City, whose daughter was the Johnson County Fair queen. After the speech, she said Castro “really knocked it out of the park.”

Candidates they recognized

Picture of Monic Behnken’s filled out survey

Monic Behnken

College professor living in Ames

“Joe Biden, he’s had his time. Cory Booker, one of my top picks.”

0:27

Candidates they recognized

Picture of Howard and Bonita Booth’s filled out survey

Howard and Bonita Booth

Residents of Lamoni

Biden “might have the best chance to settle things down and directing us in a more positive way.”

0:44

Candidates they recognized

Picture of Bruce Edwards’s filled out survey

Bruce Edwards

West Des Moines resident, speaking about Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.)

“She is very popular. …Since when are Democrats afraid to do something bold?”

0:16

Candidates they recognized

Picture of Ellen Darcy’s filled out survey

Ellen Darcy

Des Moines resident who cast her kernel vote for Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind.

“I would put my kernel in many of their jars right now, honestly.”

0:37

Candidates they recognized

Picture of Denis and Nancy Johansen’s filled out survey

Denis and Nancy Johansen

Knoxville residents who cast kernels for Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.)

“I think what we need is a Jimmy Carter kind of president now. One that’s moderate, can work with both sides, doesn’t avoid issues, but also doesn’t go crazy on them.”

0:12

“The problem is all of the people I’m passionate about are in the lower echelons right now,” said Thomas Lecaque, a history professor who plans to caucus for Castro. “We have six months, we’ll see what happens.”

Kevin Uhrmacher

Kevin Uhrmacher is a graphics editor for politics at The Washington Post. His work includes mapping trends in election results, analyzing data about President Trump’s political appointees and explaining the impact of congressional policies. He joined The Post in 2014 as a news designer.

Kevin Schaul

Kevin Schaul is a senior graphics editor for The Washington Post. He covers national politics and public policy using data and visuals.

Matt Collette contributed to this report.

About this story

State fairgoers were approached near the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox and the WHO-TV corn kernel poll from Thursday, Aug. 8, to Saturday, Aug. 10. Most of the presidential candidates visited the fair during this time period. Fairgoers were shown a piece of paper with the images of 24 presidential candidates as they appear in the grids on this page. No names were provided on the paper. We asked them to circle each candidate as they said the name out loud.

The responses included here are limited to Iowa residents who offered some interest in the Democratic candidates. In some instances, an Iowa resident and a non-Iowa resident worked together to identify candidates. Most of those responses were included.

Several deep-fried foods were consumed in the making of this graphic.

Share