The Iowa Caucuses are a mystery to many people. We understand that they occur and that the outcome can have a great impact on the eventual outcomes of the Convention’s candidate decisions, but how do they work exactly and how do they affect the outcome?
The Iowa Caucuses work differently than primary voting. Voters from each precinct gather at a polling station but do not initially cast a vote. The caucuses start with representatives speaking about their respective candidates, giving speeches to try to influence the other voters. After the speeches are complete, voting begins. In the republican caucus, votes are cast by secret ballot.
In the democratic caucus, voting is done by groups of people moving together into representative groups. If a candidate is seen as unviable, meaning they receive less than 15% of the vote, the people from that candidate group will then move to one of the other candidate’s groups.
Through this process, winners are announced at the end of the day of caucusing. Iowa only represents 1% of the votes at the national conventions, a very tiny amount, and yet it receives a huge amount of hype leading up to the caucuses. This is because these are the first primary conventions in the country and the momentum which can be achieved by candidates selected is significant. When a candidate has won the first state, it makes it easier to continue to convince other states that you should win there too. If a candidate instead makes a poor showing in Iowa, they may choose to bow out and allow the election to continue without them on the ballot.
When watching the caucus results, it is important to remember that these elections are not actually to choose a candidate, but instead delegates who currently represent that candidate. This is very important, as representatives for a specific candidate can change their minds about their candidate between now and the time they vote in higher level conventions. Nothing is set in stone based on the results of this, or any other, primary.
Caucusing identifies 1,681 precinct delegates who will go to the 99 county-level conventions. The process will be repeated at these conventions and delegates will be selected to go to congressional district-level conventions where the process will repeat again. Lastly, the last group of representatives will go to a state-level convention where delegates for the national convention are selected. This final selection of delegates to the national convention will occur sometime late in May.