DES MOINES, IOWA —
At campaign rallies across Iowa, some candidates and voters are angrily blaming Washington, D.C., for the nation's problems.
Voters concerned by the growing influence of big money and entrenched politicians appear to be supporting three anti-establishment candidates – businessman Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz and Senator Bernie Sanders – much more than expected in the polls.
Just days before Monday's Iowa caucuses, hundreds of people stood in the freezing cold for hours to see Trump at a Drake University event in Des Moines. Many cited his lack of political experience and his self-funded campaign as reasons to vote for the real estate mogul who has never held political office.
WATCH: VOA Snapshot of the Iowa Race – Republicans
“I think there is a lot of anger about the establishment, and I think that’s okay. I think the establishment should be shook up because they have failed in the past,” said Jack, a Trump supporter from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who would not give his last name.
Candidates are tapping into voters' sense that the establishment is set up to oppose their interests. Trump’s biggest rival, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, has turned the perception that he is widely disliked in Washington, D.C., to his advantage.
“If you see a candidate who Washington embraces, run and hide,” Cruz told an overflow crowd of hundreds in Ames, Iowa, on Saturday. The crowd cheered when Cruz suggested dismantling the Internal Revenue Service and the “alphabet soup” of government agencies.
“Many politicians say one thing when they campaign, and when they go to Washington, they do the other. It happens in both parties and I’m tired of that,” said Paul, who says he is a county co-chair for the Cruz campaign but, like many of the voters backing insurgent candidates, declined to give his last name.
WATCH: VOA Snapshot of the Iowa Race – Voters
Republican voters at rallies in Iowa cited the economy, illegal immigration and the state of the U.S. military as their top issues but acknowledged that none of these problems can be fixed with the system as it stands now.
“Even Republicans nationally prefer somebody that’s an outsider, somebody that isn’t part of the political class, that isn’t part of the perceived problems that we’re seeing in Washington right now,” said Matt Strawn, a former Republican political strategist.
But the anger isn't limited to Republicans.
“There’s angry voters across the political spectrum right now,” says Dennis Goldford, professor of political science at Drake University.
At a university mock caucus event last week, college students expressed some of the same distaste with Washington as older voters.
Democrats who say they distrust Wall Street line up behind Sanders, the Vermont senator who calls himself a "democratic socialist." Sanders argues for reform of the financial services industry, including breaking up the big banks.
WATCH: VOA Snapshot of the Iowa Race – Democrats
But it was a Hillary Clinton supporter who seemed to sum up the general feeling in the student crowd.
“I think people are getting tired of the old ways and looking for some real change,” said college junior Jonathan Rudnick.
“You’re seeing populist themes gain currency, because people are working harder, but struggling to continue to pay the bills, believe that the system is rigged against them,” said Goldford, the political science professor.
The statewide Iowa caucuses on Monday evening mark the first step for candidates who hope to end up in Washington – the place many of them have derided throughout the campaign.
The polls in Iowa set into motion a state-by-state process through which U.S. voters select their parties’ candidates for the November presidential election.