I do my best to try to stay informed, but I have to admit IÂ knew nothing about the Iowa Caucus.Â Here’s what I found out:Â
What’s a caucus?
Caucus comes from a North American Indian word meaning a gathering of the ruling tribal chiefs.Â Today it describes a process of political party members gathering to make policy decisions and to select candidates.
How does the Iowa Caucus work and how do the two parties differ in their process?
The Republican caucus voting system in Iowa is relatively straightforward: You come in, you vote, typically through secret ballot, and the percentages of the group supporting each candidate decides what delegates will go on to the county convention.
The Democrats have a more complex system. Â In a typical caucus, registered democrats gather at the precinct meeting places (there are 1,993 precincts statewide), supporters for each candidate have a chance to make their case, and then the participants gather into groups supporting particular candidates (undecided voters also cluster into a group). In order for a particular group to be viable, they must have a certain percentage of the all the caucus participants. If they don’t have enough people, the group disbands, and its members go to another group.
So why do the Iowa caucuses get so much attention from the candidates and the media?
Iowa is the first real test of a candidate and if he or she can perform better than expected that just helps build momentum.Â But maybe a little history will better answer the question.
In the early 1970s, the Iowa Democratic Party made several reforms to their delegate selection process. These reforms included requiring a minimum of 30 days between the precinct caucuses and the county, district and state conventions, and publicizing the events to allow more people to take part in the process. When the 1972 Democratic State Convention was set for May 20, the new rules dictated that the precinct caucus would be January 24, thereby making it the first statewide test for presidential candidates in the nation. In 1976, recognizing the increased exposure, the Republican Party of Iowa moved their caucus to the same date as the Democrats. The candidates and national media have observed the Iowa caucuses as the “First in the Nation” ever since.