Category: Student Experience

Title: Hoyas on the Campaign Trail: Students Track Presidential Primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire

By Hayden Frye

As a new semester started, students enrolled in Hans Noel’s Presidential Nominations Lab didn’t gather in a classroom. Instead, they met for the first time in an airport. 

The 10 undergraduates were hopping on a plane to Iowa, braving sub-zero temperatures to witness the presidential primary in action. 

As part of the course, students got to follow the political primaries from Iowa to New Hampshire, meeting with major political players and seeing their coursework play out in real time. 

“The nomination process is so central to what political parties do, but it’s so often misunderstood,” said Noel, an associate professor in the College of Arts & Sciences. “There’s really no better way to get an understanding of it than to see it up close. That includes going to rallies, talking with voters, journalists and politicos.”

Georgetown students talk with NBC analyst Chuck Todd at a taping of Meet the Press in Des Moines. Photo by Hans Noel.

During trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, students visited candidates’ offices, met with journalists like Chuck Todd at a taping of Meet the Press, and listened to, and in some cases met, the candidates vying for the U.S. presidential election, including former President Donald Trump, Governor Ron DeSantis, former U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Governor Asa Hutchinson, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and author Marianne Williamson. 

“It is one thing to read something from a book or watch someone in the news,” said Anna Baramidze (C’24), one of the students in the class. “But seeing it live is a totally different deal.” 

Learning on the Campaign Trail

Students pose with instructor Hans Noel while at an Iowa caucus. Photo by Noel.

Noel, a political scientist whose research focuses on political parties, first decided to offer the course in 2020 after visiting Iowa and New Hampshire in earlier primary election cycles. 

He said he wants students who are interested in politics and government to understand not only the ideologies of parties but also their inner workings, how they advocate for change, adopt ideologies and nominate candidates. The primaries offer the perfect training grounds.

“A lot of primary events are on college campuses, and it was such a great opportunity for the local students,” he said. “If you go to school in Iowa or New Hampshire, at some point during your college career, the whole circus will come to you. We have our own part of the circus in Washington, but not this part. So if it won’t come to us, we should go to it.”

Taking students to the heart of the action allows them to apply their readings from class in real-time and meet with the politicians, staffers, journalists and voters that they’ve spent time studying on the Hilltop, he said.  

For Baramidze, a government major pursuing a certification in Russian and Eastern European studies, being at the primaries in person made all the difference. 

“This experience provided me with unique insight into the electoral processes, a better understanding of each candidate’s appeal, a sense of why people may support them and obviously a better look at their policies,” she said.

“This experience provided me with unique insight into the electoral processes, a better understanding of each candidate’s appeal, a sense of why people may support them and obviously a better look at their policies.”

Anna Baramidze (C’24)

Baramidze has already ventured outside of the classroom to get a firsthand perspective on the world of politics. During her time at Georgetown, she has interned at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Wilson Center and the U.S. House of Representatives. 

“I have been interested in politics for as long as I can remember and have dedicated my academic and professional career to the field,” said Baramidze. “On our trips, we visited candidate offices and attended rallies for all the Republican and Democrat candidates – it was impressive and informative to see them all live, hear their speeches, observe their actions, interact with their supporters, and experience the atmosphere.”

A Fresh Take on Politics

Noel’s lab has even drawn students who aren’t pursuing a career in politics, like Pratik Jacob (C’25), a double major in government and computer science with a minor in philosophy. 

“I’m fascinated by how different electoral systems impact the prevalence/success of specific types of politicians, policies and politics,” said Jacob. “This class is a rare opportunity to experience firsthand how our politics and policy are shaped by the uniquely American system of presidential nominations.”

In addition to deepening his understanding of politics, Jacob said he gained a different, on-the-ground perspective of the campaigns themselves. 

Pratik Jacob (C’25) with former U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley. Photo by Hans Noel.

“At home, you don’t get the opportunity to feel the energy and buzz of a campaign as it goes through its ups and downs,” said Jacob. “Some candidates clearly inspired a lot more energy and buzz from their crowd than others, sometimes in unexpected ways. For example, I was surprised by how much more engaged Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy’s supporters were than Ron DeSantis’.”

Jacob recognizes that the energy in a room in Iowa doesn’t always result in better election turnout, but meeting voters in person, especially those showing up for a primary, was an invaluable addition to his understanding of American politics – one that gave him hope.

“The highlight of the course so far has been the conversations I was able to have with Iowans in the lead-up to the Iowa caucuses,” said Jacob. “Campaigns, intrinsically, are acts of hope — manifestations of the belief that, with the right leaders and policies, America and the world have brighter days ahead. 

“It’s often difficult to preserve that optimism when I’m flooded with information from my classes, the media or my classmates about how broken the world is. It certainly is, but being around so many people, whose voices blazed with passion and vision for this country, reinvigorated my spirit.” 

Editor’s Note: The first image in the article features students meeting with Kristen Welker, moderator of NBC News’ “Meet the Press.” The classmates watched the show’s pre-caucus Sunday morning episode filmed in a Des Moines studio. Photo by Vasiliki Vlastaras.