Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Iowa: Our caucus is a big deal

For the most part, Iowans live a humble and quiet life. But every four years, the nation actually pays attention to what's going on in my home state and the place becomes a little busier.

Yep, I'm talking about the Iowa Caucus.


I have lived in Iowa during three caucus cycles since I came of voting age, and I've participated in all of them on some level. While I don't talk politics on this blog or on social media, that doesn't mean I'm not involved. I care very much about the issues and our elected officials.

In 2008, I was working at a newspaper in a small town near the capital city of Des Moines. I covered the caucuses and also got to interview several candidates as they passed through town leading up to the event. My interviewees included the current president, one of the current Democratic front-runners, and a few past notable Republican candidates.

In 2012, I was living in a different area, so I had to re-register, and I actually participated in the events.

This year, I had to re-register again, but I went out last night to exercise my privilege as an Iowan.

We have been caucusing since 1940, and we've been first in the nation since 1972. There have been attempts to change that, but they haven't been successful. For that, I'm glad. Iowans take pride in their political savvy, and trust me, they are not shy about grilling the candidates.

Seven of the last 10 Democratic caucus winners went on to get the party nomination.  On the Republican side, Iowans got it right six out of 10 times.


A lot of people don't understand how caucusing works. The Republican and Democratic caucuses are different.

The Republicans go to their precinct location and hear three-minute speeches on behalf of each candidate. When the speeches are done, they write their choice on a piece of paper and turn it in to be counted. Their ballots are kept secret and they can pledge their support for any candidate, even the unpopular ones.

Democrats make the process a little more complex, and I'll do my best to explain it by recounting my experience from last night.

Step 1:  I went to my local precinct, which I found by going online and putting in my address.

Step 2:  I re-registered and signed in as a participant.

Step 3:  I chose a candidate to support and went to that area of the venue.

Step 4:  Every person is counted at the precinct and then we divide up even more noticeably.

Step 5:  First count. My precinct had 266 individuals, and to be a viable candidate there had to be 40 people in that candidate's corner.  Martin O'Malley only had eight and there were approximately 10 undecided.

Step 6:  Re-alignment. Representatives from the Clinton and Sanders camps approached the O'Malley supporters and the undecideds, trying to sway them to their respective candidates. We had 30 minutes to do this.

Step 7:  Final count.  We ended up with 153 for Sanders, 110 for Clinton, and 3 who stayed with O'Malley.  Since our precinct can send eight delegates to the next level, those delegates are divided by the percentages. We will be sending five for Sanders and three for Clinton.

Step 8:  Choose delegates, a platform, and elect committee chairs.

I arrived at the venue (a small church) at 6:30 to register, the caucus activity began at 7, and I left around 8:30.  I don't feel like two hours is too much to invest.
Still confused?  Check out this video:

It's a really interesting process.

As I said earlier, all eyes have been on Iowa in weeks leading up to the caucus.  National media has been all over my city.  There's even been some international media, as the brewery where I work was visited by Japanese reporters last week. Celebrities who are supporting various candidates have also infiltrated our state. I have friends who ran into the likes of Jamie Lee Curtis and Justin Long.

It can get a bit chaotic, honestly, and parking anywhere downtown was a bit of a nightmare over the weekend. And it's safe to say 95 percent of the television and radio ads are of the political nature. (I'm glad that percentage will be dropping for the next few months.)  It can be very aggravating.

But it's also really exhilarating. There's an indescribable buzz everywhere. People who don't usually talk politics begin to talk politics. I have friends on both sides of the political spectrum, but I'm fortunate that they're all respectful and intelligent when they discuss their views. You can't go anywhere without hearing about the caucus, and you might get approached in a random public place to be polled about your preferences on the candidates and the issues. It's fun to feel like your opinion counts.

Do you live in a state where there's a caucus?
Would you participate if you did?


  1. Amazing! I was a Political Science major but this breaks it down so much more clearly! I've always been fascinated by Iowa and New Hampshire during election time! Thanks for posting this!

  2. The Republicans hear 3 minute speeches on the behalf of each candidate and then we write our vote (the name) on a ballot. No check marking involved. Ballots are counted and each candidate has their number of votes and delegates are awarded accordingly.

    1. Thanks, Jill! I've updated the post to reflect this information.

  3. I think the caucus thing is really interesting. Honestly, I think it's more in line with the intention the founders had when they created the process for electing a President. It was never intended to be left up to individuals to decide. Thanks for this post!

    (And, um, pretty cool that you got to interview Obama.)

  4. Our democratic caucus is the almost the same here in WA. The GOP does a caucus and a primary, though I have no idea why because they only count the primary votes. I read somewhere that Dems are having both this year too, but I haven't heard anything yet. The GOP caucus is next weekend. The Dem caucus is at the end of March, and the primary for both (I guess) is the end of April. It's so weird.


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