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Iowa Caucuses: First Stop for Presidential Candidates

Updated: Mar 15

The Democratic and Republican Party's presidential nomination began in Iowa on January 15th. The nomination process in Iowa differs from the other states. Even though the number of state delegates is insignificant (1.6% of all delegates), these primaries are still meaningful. In the current political climate of heightened polarization, it is important to follow the results of the Iowa caucuses because it can potentially spark or end the campaign of presidential candidates.


How Does it Work?

The presidential candidate of each party is nominated through primaries and caucuses. A majority of states use primaries. In the process, electors vote in polling stations for their favorite candidate on designated voting days.

Iowa is one of the few states that hold caucuses. State citizens gather at caucus sites to vote on party matters. For the Republican Party, such matters include the presidential nomination. 1,657 caucus sites are organized in the state where candidates’ representatives deliver a speech to influence the vote of the members present. Then, members cast two votes: one for the nomination of the presidential republican candidate and one for the election of their delegates for the Republican National Convention. Finally, the votes are counted, which determines the distribution of the state’s delegates to each candidate.

For the Democratic Party, their caucuses do not include the “expression of Presidential preference”. Instead, it will be organized by mail because of the chaos caused by their attempt to conduct the nomination process with a smartphone application. Voters need to request “a presidential preference card through the mail or online” to then send it back through the mail. The results will be released on Super Tuesday. The votes also dictate the distribution of the state’s delegates to each candidate.

Caucuses Are Better…

People are more involved in party affairs than in primaries. During the caucuses, citizens also express their support or opposition toward policy proposals and delegates representing their region during the state and the national convention. The Democrats also hold caucuses for party business, even though they vote by mail.

The proportional distribution of the state’s delegates allows candidates who underperformed to stay in the race like John McCain in 2008 and to provide potential momentum for other candidates who exceeded expectations like Donald Trump in 2016.

… But They Can Also Be Worse

The long process is a significant problem for the caucus system. The caucus sites are not open to all members all day long like the primaries. It can lead to a lower voter turnout than in primaries and a misrepresentation of members’ opinions because they are unavailable to attend the caucus. In 2016, 18.5% of all Iowan registered voters participated in a caucus. In contrast, in New Hampshire, the state voting immediately after Iowa and holding primaries instead of caucuses, the number rose to 46.6% in 2016.

Because of the winter storm expected to hit Iowa during the Republican caucus, many specialists predicted that the voter turnout may be even lower than usual.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author. 

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