The Iowa caucuses are galvanizing the nation’s attention with front-runners Donald Trump on the GOP side and Hillary Clinton with the Democrat party, however the focus of the Iowa Caucus leads to some key questions about how they operate and what you need to know about them.
Here are 7 key points you should know.
1. Only around 20 per cent of the registered voters in Iowa actually turn up to the caucus (other than in 2008 when the Obama / Clinton race saw a lift to double that figure. The state is 30th in population.
2. The caucusing practice has run since the 1840s but was the first caucus only since 1972, beating out New Hampshire by switching their caucus from the spring to January in the 1960s. It has received some snide comments as a result of its timetable with the caucuses, too with Governor John Sununu angering Iowans in 1988 when he said, “The people of Iowa pick corn, the people of New Hampshire pick presidents.”
3. Iowa is known as a “closed primary” state, meaning that participants have to be registered as Democrat or Republican in order to caucus. However, voters are able to register on the night of the caucus at their designated location.
4. Democrats and Republicans vote differently in the caucuses with the latter casting secret ballots or even by scribbling a name on a piece of paper. Democrats, by contrast, provide public support for candidates and put themselves into groups with the undecided voters receiving impassioned speeches in support of their candidate. The Democrat candidates must receive at least 15 per cent of the votes to remain in the race – if they don’t, their supporters are asked to support someone else.
5. Almost 1700 caucuses will be voting in Iowa, but multiple caucuses usually share the same location. The Democratic Party has about 1100 locations while the Republican Party has nearly 700. They can take place almost anywhere: churches, schools, fire stations, restaurants, even private residences. Where Iowans go to caucus depends on where they live, much like voting—but in many cases, the caucus location is not the same place as the voting location.
6. The Iowa caucuses do not provide a definite indication of who will win the nomination at all, although it is more accurate as a predictor of the likely selection for the Democrat Party where winners since 1972 have received the nomination. Iowa only got it wrong when they selected Edmund Muskie, Dick Gephardt and Tom Harkin.
7. For selecting the eventual Republican nominee the Iowa caucuses have a woeful record of accuracy. Republican winners who got the party nomination at the caucuses include Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan (for his second term), George H.W. Bush (second term), Bob Dole, and George W. Bush for both his terms. They got it wrong when they picked George H.W. Bush against Ronald Reagan in 1980, Bob Dole in 1988, Mike Huckabee in 2008, and Rick Santorum in 2012.