Don’t Understand How The Iowa Caucus Works? Here’s A Quick Explanation

On Monday, February 1, at 7 p.m., representatives from the Democratic and Republican parties will congregate in each of Iowa’s 99 counties to cast their support for candidates from their respective party.

The Iowa caucuses will kick off the presidential primaries, and a win will have a tremendous impact on the rest of state elections. That said, many people are unaware about how the caucuses work. Allow this author to explain:

On the Democratic side, caucus-goers break into groups that publicly declare their support for a candidate. If the number of people in any group accounts for fewer than 15 percent of the total, they can either choose not to participate any further or they can join another candidate group. The results are the first step in determining delegates to support candidates at the national convention. Iowa sends 44 delegates to the convention, and they will be awarded proportionally — based on the statewide vote as well as on the vote in individual congressional districts — to candidates who receive at least 15 percent of the vote.

For Republicans, the process is much more simple: supporters of each candidate give a brief speech, then privately mark ballots. After the ballots are counted, a local caucus organizer relays on the results to the state party via a smartphone app. The Iowa Republican Party sends a total of 30 delegates to the national convention, which will be awarded proportionally based upon the statewide vote.

While all candidates hope to win the caucuses, which would give them a boost of momentum as they shift focus to the New Hampshire primary on February 9, the silver and bronze medals are not too bad of a result. A candidate who places second or third can carry similar, albeit smaller, momentum to the caucus winner, and carry that into later primaries as well.

Photo Source: Evan Vucci / AP