How the Iowa Caucuses work

The Iowa Caucuses is an electoral event, but not an election, in which the voters of Iowa meet in their voting precincts throughout Iowa


The first caucuses were held in 1972. All eyes turn to Iowa every four years during the caucus process as Iowa voters are the first in the country to select their presidential candidate. Every eventual presidential nominee has always finished among the top three at the Iowa Caucuses.

Both the 2008 and 2012 caucuses have drawn historical turnout. The same is expected in 2016 when both parties will select their presidential nominee.

On Feb. 1, both the Democratic and Republican caucuses will include a discussion of issues, the selection of delegates to represent each precinct at county conventions, and a decision on the precinct’s preference for presidential candidate.  

All Iowa Caucuses begin at 7 p.m. and last anywhere from one to three hours, depending upon the number of participants. A precinct caucus can have as few as one person or up to several hundred people. Caucus participants must be registered with their respective party to participate; however, they can change their party affiliation at their caucus precinct. Caucus-goers should bring a form of identification in case proof of residency is requested.


Leading up to caucus night, campaigns will typically reach out to every single person who has participated in a previous caucus and try to recruit them to participate as leaders in their precincts. This can range from local neighbor-to-neighbor calls and block walks to letter writing campaigns to residents encouraging their neighbor to participate and vote for their candidate. 


How they differ


At the Democratic caucus, caucus-goers will check in and register their party affiliation. If they are not already registered as a Democrat, the participant must do so that night. At the beginning of the meeting, the precinct chairperson will announce a presidential candidate viability number. Caucus participants will then join a preference group based on their candidate choice. Viability will be determined, and participants may reorganize or join another preference group if their candidate doesn’t meet the viability number previously determined. Delegates will then be assigned to represent each preference group at the county, state and national conventions. 




At the Republican caucus, candidate representatives may briefly speak, and then caucus-goers will discuss the candidates and try to persuade others to join their candidate. They will then cast a vote for their preferred candidate. This can be done through either a show of hands or secret paper ballot. The votes are counted, and the results are immediately reported. Caucus-goers will then select precinct delegates and vote on the state party’s platform. 



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