|Elections in Iowa|
The Iowa caucuses are an electoral event in which residents of the U.S. state of Iowa meet in precinct caucuses in all of Iowa's 1,774 precincts and elect delegates to the corresponding county conventions. There are ninety-nine counties in Iowa, and thus there are ninety-nine conventions. These county conventions then select delegates for both Iowa's Congressional District Convention and the State Convention, which eventually choose the delegates for the presidential nominating conventions.
The Iowa caucuses are noteworthy for the amount of media attention they receive during U.S. presidential election years. Since 1972, the Iowa caucuses have been the first major electoral event of the nominating process for President of the United States. Although only about 1% of the nation's delegates are chosen by the Iowa State Convention (25 Republican delegates in 2012, assigned proportionately), the Iowa caucuses have served as an early indication of which candidates for president might win the nomination of their political party at that party's national convention, and which ones could drop out for lack of support.
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The Iowa caucuses operate very differently from the more common primary election used by most other states (see U.S. presidential primary). The caucuses are generally defined as "gatherings of neighbors." Rather than going to polls and casting ballots, Iowans gather at a set location in each of Iowa's 1,774 precincts. Typically, these meetings occur in schools, churches, public libraries and even individuals' houses. The caucuses are held every two years, but the ones that receive national attention are the presidential preference caucuses held every four years. In addition to the voting and the presidential preference choices, caucus-goers begin the process of writing their parties’ platforms by introducing resolutions.
Unlike the first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire, the Iowa caucus does not result directly in national delegates for each candidate. Instead, caucus-goers elect delegates to county conventions, who in turn elect delegates to district and state conventions where Iowa's national convention delegates are selected. Ironically, the state conventions do not take place until the end of the primary and caucus season: Iowa is in fact one of the very last states to choose its delegates.
The Republicans and Democrats each hold their own set of caucuses subject to their own particular rules that change from time to time. Participants in each party's caucuses must be registered with that party. Participants can change their registration at the caucus location. Additionally, 17-year-olds can participate, as long as they will be 18 years old by the date of the general election. Observers are allowed to attend, as long as they do not become actively involved in the debate and voting process. For example, members of the media and campaign staff and volunteers attend many of the precinct caucuses. Youth who will not be eligible to vote by the date of the general election may also attend as observers and may volunteer to attend the county convention as youth delegates.
Republican Party process
For the Republicans, the Iowa caucuses follow (and should not be confused with) the Ames Straw Poll in August of the preceding year. Out of the six Ames Straw Poll iterations, the winner of the Ames Straw Poll has failed to win the Iowa caucuses three times, in 1987, 2007, and 2011.
In the Republican caucuses, each voter officially casts his or her vote by secret ballot. Voters are presented blank sheets of paper with no candidate names on them. After listening to some campaigning for each candidate by caucus participants, they write their choices down and the Republican Party of Iowa tabulates the results at each precinct and transmits them to the media. In 2008, some precincts used a show of hands  or preprinted ballots. The non-binding results are tabulated and reported to the state party, which releases the results to the media. Delegates from the precinct caucuses go on to the county conventions, which choose delegates to the district conventions, which in turn selects delegates to the Iowa State Convention. Thus, it is the Republican Iowa State Convention, not the precinct caucuses, which selects the ultimate delegates from Iowa to the Republican National Convention. All delegates are officially unbound from the results of the precinct caucus, although media organizations either estimate delegate numbers by estimating county convention results or simply divide them proportionally.
Democratic Party process
The process used by the Democrats is more complex than the Republican Party caucus process. Each precinct divides its delegate seats among the candidates in proportion to caucus goers' votes. Participants indicate their support for a particular candidate by standing in a designated area of the caucus site (forming a preference group). An area may also be designated for undecided participants. Then, for roughly 30 minutes, participants try to convince their neighbors to support their candidates. Each preference group might informally deputize a few members to recruit supporters from the other groups and, in particular, from among those undecided. Undecided participants might visit each preference group to ask its members about their candidate.
After 30 minutes, the electioneering is temporarily halted and the supporters for each candidate are counted. At this point, the caucus officials determine which candidates are viable. Depending on the number of county delegates to be elected, the viability threshold is 15% of attendees. For a candidate to receive any delegates from a particular precinct, he or she must have the support of at least the percentage of participants required by the viability threshold. Once viability is determined, participants have roughly another 30 minutes to realign: the supporters of inviable candidates may find a viable candidate to support, join together with supporters of another inviable candidate to secure a delegate for one of the two, or choose to abstain. This realignment is a crucial distinction of caucuses in that (unlike a primary) being a voter's second candidate of choice can help a candidate.
When the voting is closed, a final head count is conducted, and each precinct apportions delegates to the county convention. These numbers are reported to the state party, which counts the total number of delegates for each candidate and reports the results to the media. Most of the participants go home, leaving a few to finish the business of the caucus: each preference group elects its delegates, and then the groups reconvene to elect local party officers and discuss the platform.
The delegates chosen by the precinct then go to a later caucus, the county convention, to choose delegates to the district convention and state convention. Most of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention are selected at the district convention, with the remaining ones selected at the state convention. Delegates to each level of convention are initially bound to support their chosen candidate but can later switch in a process very similar to what goes on at the precinct level; however, as major shifts in delegate support are rare, the media declares the candidate with the most delegates on the precinct caucus night the winner, and relatively little attention is paid to the later caucuses.
2004 Democratic process
In 2004, the meetings ran from 6:30 p.m. until approximately 8:00 p.m. on January 19, 2004, with a turnout of about 124,000 caucus-goers. The county convention occurred on March 13, the district convention on April 24, and the state convention on June 26. Delegates could and did change their votes based on further developments in the race; for instance, in 2004 the delegates pledged to Dick Gephardt, who left the race after the precinct caucuses, chose a different candidate to support at the county, district, and state level.
The number of delegates each candidate receives eventually determines how many state delegates from Iowa that candidate will have at the Democratic National Convention. Iowa sends 56 delegates to the DNC out of a total 4,366.
Of the 45 delegates that were chosen through the caucus system, 29 were chosen at the district level. Ten delegates were at-large delegates, and six were "party leader and elected official" (PLEO) delegates; these were assigned at the state convention. There were also 11 other delegates, eight of whom were appointed from local Democratic National Committee members - two were PLEO delegates and one was elected at the state Democratic convention.
The 2008 Iowa caucuses took place January 3 at 7 p.m. CT. Candidates spent tens of millions of dollars on local television advertisements and hundreds of paid staff in dozens of field offices. Barack Obama (D) and Mike Huckabee (R) were the eventual winners.
The 2012 Iowa caucuses took place on Tuesday, January 3, starting at 7 p.m. CT. Incumbent president Barack Obama only faced minor opposition in the Democratic caucus and received 98% of the vote, but the Republican caucus was heavily contested between several challengers. Initial results reported that Mitt Romney beat out Rick Santorum by just 8 votes, but when the final results came out two weeks later Rick Santorum secured the victory over Romney by a margin of 34 votes with Ron Paul in a strong 3rd. Results were certified by the Caucus but not by the Republican party who declared it a split decision due to missing reports from 8 precincts, but who later certified the caucus as a win for Santorum. The caucus winner changed yet again when the Iowa delegate totals were finally determined giving Ron Paul the win along with several other states that same weekend.
Candidates in bold eventually won their party's nomination. Candidates also in italics subsequently won the general election.
- January 3, 2012 - Barack Obama (98%), "Uncommitted" (2%)
- January 3, 2008 – Barack Obama (38%), John Edwards (30%), Hillary Clinton (29%), Bill Richardson (2%), Joe Biden (1%)
- January 19, 2004 – John Kerry (38%), John Edwards (32%), Howard Dean (18%), Dick Gephardt (11%), and Dennis Kucinich (1%)
- January 24, 2000 – Al Gore (63%) and Bill Bradley (37%)
- February 12, 1996 – Bill Clinton (98%), "Uncommitted" (1%), Ralph Nader (1%)
- February 10, 1992 – Tom Harkin (76%), "Uncommitted" (12%), Paul Tsongas (4%), Bill Clinton (3%), Bob Kerrey (2%), and Jerry Brown (2%)
- February 8, 1988 – Dick Gephardt (31%), Paul Simon (27%), Michael Dukakis (22%), and Bruce Babbitt (6%)
- February 20, 1984 – Walter Mondale (49%), Gary Hart (17%), George McGovern (10%), Alan Cranston (7%), John Glenn (4%), Reubin Askew (3%), and Jesse Jackson (2%)
- January 21, 1980 – Jimmy Carter (59%) and Ted Kennedy (31%)
- January 19, 1976 – "Uncommitted" (37%), Jimmy Carter (28%) Birch Bayh (13%), Fred R. Harris (10%), Morris Udall (6%), Sargent Shriver (3%), and Henry M. Jackson (1%)
- January 24, 1972 – "Uncommitted" (36%), Edmund Muskie (36%), George McGovern (23%), Hubert Humphrey (2%), Eugene McCarthy (1%), Shirley Chisholm (1%), and Henry M. Jackson (1%)
- 2012 - Rick Santorum (25%), Mitt Romney (25%), Ron Paul (21%), Newt Gingrich (13%), Rick Perry (10%), Michele Bachmann (5%), and Jon Huntsman (0.6%)
- 2008 – Mike Huckabee (34%), Mitt Romney (25%), Fred Thompson (13%), John McCain (13%), Ron Paul (10%), Rudy Giuliani (4%), and Duncan Hunter (1%)
- 2004 – George W. Bush (unopposed)
- 2000 – George W. Bush (41%), Steve Forbes (31%), Alan Keyes (14%), Gary Bauer (9%), John McCain (5%), and Orrin Hatch (1%)
- 1996 – Bob Dole (26%), Pat Buchanan (23%), Lamar Alexander (18%), Steve Forbes (10%), Phil Gramm (9%), Alan Keyes (7%), Richard Lugar (4%), and Morry Taylor (1%)
- 1992 – George H. W. Bush (unopposed)
- 1988 – Bob Dole (37%), Pat Robertson (25%), George H. W. Bush (19%), Jack Kemp (11%), and Pete DuPont (7%)
- 1984 – Ronald Reagan (unopposed)
- 1980 – George H. W. Bush (32%), Ronald Reagan (30%), Howard Baker (15%), John Connally (9%), Phil Crane (7%), John B. Anderson (4%), and Bob Dole (2%)
- 1976 – Gerald Ford (45%) and Ronald Reagan (43%)
Democratic caucus participants (though not Republicans, whose caucuses vote by secret ballot) must publicly state their opinion and vote, leading to natural problems such as peer pressure from neighbors and embarrassment over who his or her preferred candidate might be. Another criticism involves the sheer amount of participants' time these events consume.
An Iowa caucus can last up around two hours, preventing people who must work, who are sick, or must take care of their children from casting their vote. Absentee voting is also barred, so active-duty Iowan soldiers lose the opportunity to participate, as do locally-registered college students who leave the state during winter holidays. The final criticism is the complexity of the rules in terms of how one's vote counts, as it is not a simple popular vote.
Arguments in favor of caucuses include the belief that they favor more motivated participants than simple ballots, and that supporters of non-viable candidates are able to realign with a more popular candidate and still make their vote count. Additionally, many caucus-goers consider them more interesting due to how much more interactive they are than a primary. Lastly, one other argument in favor is that caucus-goers get more information before making their vote, so those voting will potentially be more educated about their candidate choices than primary-goers.
Each precinct's vote may be weighed differently due to its past voting record. Ties can be solved by picking a name out of a hat or a simple coin toss, leading to anger over the true democratic nature of these caucuses. Additionally, the representation of the caucus has had a traditionally low turnout. Others question the permanent feature of having caucuses in certain states, while perpetually ignoring the rest of the country.
- Iowa Democratic caucuses, 2012
- Iowa Republican caucuses, 2012
- United States presidential election
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- Iowa Caucus 2012 official site