WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE IOWA CAUCUSES
The Iowa Caucuses, the first contest in the Presidential nomination process, happen February 1st. In 2012, I worked for the Republican Party of Iowa planning, organizing, and orchestrating this incredible and historic event. Here are answers to some common questions about what exactly the Caucuses are and what it means for the election.
- •What are the Caucuses?The caucuses are not an official election. Voters come together within nearly 2000 separate precincts, meeting with other registered members of their party to elect delegates to their district and state conventions, during a presidential election year each precinct also takes a vote on who the State Party Delegates should vote for at the National Conventions
- •Why Is Iowa First?The short answer is that they've always been first. In 1976, Jimmy Carter used his victory in Iowa as a springboard to launch his little known and underfunded candidacy into the White House, since then candidates have flocked to Iowa every four years to be able to say they won the first contest.
- •How does it help Presidential Candidates?Doing well in the Iowa Caucuses is a huge test of a campaigns organizational strength and validity. Candidates who perform poorer than expected see their funding drop off and support moving into the next primaries wane. Candidates who unexpectedly do well and vaulted into the top tier of candidates, Rick Santorum was a nobody until he won Iowa in 2012, and Michelle Bachmann dropped out the day after following her disappointing finish in her former home state.
- •Does the winner in Iowa always win the nomination?On the Republican side, the Iowa Caucuses are bad at predicting the eventual winner, and serve more to weed out candidates. The only Republican candidate to win Iowa and go on to win the White House was George W. Bush (Bob Dole won the caucuses and the nomination in 1996). However on the Democratic side, Iowa Caucus winners tend to do very well, as former Iowa Caucus winners Barack Obama, John Kerry, Al Gore, Walter Mondale, and Jimmy Carter can tell you.
- •How does a Caucus work?While a presidential vote is taken, the Caucuses that happen February 1st are just a first step in a very long and complicated process to determine who Iowa delegates will vote for. On caucus night, party members select candidates for their county conventions, and take a presidential poll, that will eventually determine who Iowa's delegates go to. Republicans use a closed ballot, while Democrats use a "herd" method, gathering in different parts of the room until a winner is decided.
- •Who votes in the Caucuses?Only voters registered with a party are eligible to caucus, which is part of why it's such a test of organization, it's tests whether a campaign can get their supporters to register and then show up on a cold weekday night. The Caucuses are an event that happens at a specific time, not like a primary election where voters can show up and cast their votes throughout the day. Because of this, only a small portion of Iowa's two million registered voters participate on Caucus Night
- •Iowans take the Caucuses very seriouslyIowa gets a lot of criticism as the First-in-the-Nation presidential contest because of how convoluted the process can be, and how generally unrepresentative the state of Iowa is of the general electorate/general party member. However, Iowans take their role very seriously and will vet Candidates very seriously before deciding who to caucus for. There's a reason candidates spend so much time in Iowa, because voters expect to really get to know them before voting for them.
- •You will hear about Iowa in the general electionWhile the caucuses may only represent the party faithful and the Caucus winner will likely reflect that (see, evangelical candidates winning the Republican caucuses in 2008 and 2012), Iowa is actually a very "purple" state and is poised to remain a very important swing state. It may only be six electoral votes, but those six votes can be very important on the road to securing the electoral college.
- •Any questions?? Submit them in the comments!