Skip to comments.Facts About the Iowa Caucuses (For your Edification)
Posted on 12/31/2007 9:03:01 PM PST by Sen Jack S. Fogbound
Facts About the Iowa Caucuses By The Associated Press 9 hours ago
Some questions and answers about the Iowa caucuses this Thursday:
Q: What is a caucus?
A: A party meeting at the precinct level at which citizens express their candidate preferences and pick delegates to their county conventions. It's the lowest level of party politics the real grassroots. These meetings, held in each of the state's nearly 1,800 precincts, typically draw anywhere from a handful of people in rural areas to hundreds in suburban areas.
Q: Who takes part?
A: Anyone who is old enough to vote in the November general election and is a member of the party is eligible, but traditionally only a small number of Iowans show up. This year, about 120,000 to 150,000 people are expected to vote in the Democratic caucuses, while 80,000 to 90,000 are likely to participate in the GOP contest.
Q: Why is it politically significant?
A: Persuading a group of average citizens to show up in support of a candidate is considered a sign of organizational strength. Each candidate courts politicians and activists at the state and local level in hopes of getting strong numbers of supporters to show up and participate. At the same time, the caucus system allows candidates to develop and hone their message before relatively small groups.
(Excerpt) Read more at ap.google.com ...
Read the whole thing. It is not long.
THE IOWA SCAM—The undemocratic caucuses are a terrible way to choose a presidential candidate. (Hitchens)
They should just use the polls for Iowa and choose the next President from that. Forget actually voting and all the rest.
.....at least that is the way everyone is acting lately.
I remember when Iowa caucuses were not a big deal in Presidential electoral politics. It was Super Tuesday that meant a lot. Now everything is under a microscope.
Local caucuses with non-winner-take-all statewide results rock!
More states should have them.
-—The Democrats do not report straight numbers, but use a mathematical formula to determine support for a presidential candidate in percentages.-—
These are the guys that are always crying about every vote counting.
Part of what he says is true. The Democratic caucus procedures does leave a lot of room for manipulation.
However, the Republican caucus procedure is a straight up straw poll vote (after short pitches by candidate representatives). 1 participant = 1 vote No 15% minimum or pressure to change allegiance.
Doesn’t the turnout suck on both sides.! Horrible participation consider all the time and money candidates on both sides have invested. It’s not like both parties don’t have choices.
I don’t know how Iowa thinks they deserve to go first ... with the horrible turnouts for the presidential years.
-—So, once you subtract the breathless rhetoric about “surge” and “momentum” and (oh, Lord) “electability,” it’s finally admitted that the rest of the United States is a passive spectator while about half of 45 percent of 85,000 or so Republican caucus voters promote a provincial ignoramus and anti-Darwinian to the coveted status of “front-runner” or at least “contender.”-—
To which I can only add, Pat Robertson. In what demented mind does Pat Robertson look like a President of the United States?
The Iowa caucus is commonly recognized as the first step in the United States Presidential nomination process for both the Democrats and the Republicans. It came to national attention in 1972, with a series of articles in the New York Times on how non-primary states would choose their delegates for the national conventions. Democratic operative Norma S. Matthews, state co-chair of the George McGovern campaign, helped engineer the early January start for Iowa. McGovern finished second to Edmund Muskie in the first early Hawkeye state caucus, but the momentum was palpable for an ultimate Democratic nomination in 1972 for McGovern in Miami. Four years later, the Iowa Republican Party scheduled its party caucuses on the same date as the Democrats.
In 1976 an uncommitted slate received the most support, followed by former Governor of Georgia Jimmy Carter, who came in a distant second, but won the most votes of any actual candidate. With no dominant front runner at the time, Carter was able to use the publicity of his “win” to achieve victory in the New Hampshire primary, and then to win his party’s nomination and eventually the Presidency. Since then, Presidential candidates have increased their focus on winning the Iowa caucus.
In 1980 Republicans began the tradition of holding a straw poll at their caucuses, giving the appearance of a primary election. George H. W. Bush campaigned extensively in Iowa, defeating Ronald Reagan, but ultimately failed to win the nomination.
While they have been a financial boon to the state, the political value of the Iowa caucuses has gone up and down over the years. In 1988, for example, the candidates who eventually won the nominations of both parties came in third in Iowa. In elections without a sitting President or Vice President, the Iowa winner has gone on to the nomination only about half the time (see below).
When Iowa Senator Tom Harkin ran for the Democratic nomination none of the other Democratic candidates chose to compete in Iowa, which minimized its importance in the nomination process. President Bush was unopposed on the Republican side, and the media completely ignored the state.
While the Democrats have tried to preserve the position of Iowa and New Hampshire in their nominating schedules, the Republicans have not. Alaska and Hawaii generally have their caucuses before Iowa, and in 1988 the Hawaii victory of Pat Robertson and the 1996 Louisiana victory of Pat Buchanan over Senator Phil Gramm had a significant impact on the results in Iowa.
The caucuses are closely followed by the media and can be an important factor in determining who remains in the race and who drops out. However, the only non incumbent candidate to win their party’s caucus and go on to win the general election was George W. Bush in 2000. Neither Reagan nor Clinton won prior to their first term. No incumbent President has run opposed in their own party’s caucus since Jimmy Carter in 1980.
In the months leading up to the 2004 caucus, predictions showed candidates Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean neck-and-neck for first place, with John Kerry and John Edwards far behind them. Negative campaign ads attacking each other by the two front runners soured the voters on them, and a last minute decision by Kerry to put all his remaining money in Iowa swung voters towards him. Gephardt’s presidential hopes were dashed and Dean’s badly battered, as Kerry went on to become the second non-incumbent to win both Iowa and New Hampshire since Edmund Muskie in 1972.
The Iowa caucus operates very differently from the more common primary election used by most other states (see U.S. presidential primary). The caucus is generally defined as a “gathering of neighbors.” Rather than going to polls and casting ballots, Iowans gather at a set location in each of Iowa’s 1784 precincts. Typically, these meetings occur in schools, churches, or public libraries. 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, caucus attendees propose planks for their party’s platform, select members of the county committees, and discuss issues important to their local organizations.
Unlike the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary, the Iowa caucus does not result directly in national delegates for each candidate. Instead, caucus-goers elect delegates to county conventions, who elect delegates to district and state conventions where the national convention delegates are selected.
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.
 Republican Party process
For the Republicans, the Iowa caucus follows (and should not be confused with) the Iowa Straw Poll in August of the preceding year. Out of the five Iowa Straw Poll iterations, 1987 is the only year in which the winner of the Iowa Straw Poll has not gone on to win the Iowa caucus.
In the Republican caucuses, each voter 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.  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 Convention, which chooses delegates to the District Convention, which in turn selects delegates to the State Convention. Thus it is the Republican State Convention, not the precinct caucuses, which select the ultimate delegates to the Republican National Convention in Iowa.
 Democratic Party process
The process used by the Democrats is more complicated 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” can be anywhere from 15% to 25% 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
Main article: Iowa Democratic caucuses, 2004
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 group of 45 delegates was pledged to a candidate; the group of 11 is unassigned.
 2008 process
Participants in the Iowa Caucus will be as follows
Democrats: Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson
Republicans: Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, Duncan Hunter, Fred Thompson, John McCain, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney
 Past winners
Bolded candidates eventually won their party’s nomination. Candidates with an asterisk (*) subsequently won the election.
* January 19, 2004 - John Kerry (38%), John Edwards (32%), Howard Dean (18%), Richard Gephardt (11%) and Dennis Kucinich (1%)
* January 24, 2000 - Al Gore (63%), Bill Bradley (37%)
* February 12, 1996 - Bill Clinton* (unopposed)
* February 10, 1992 - Tom Harkin (76%), “Uncommitted” (12%), Paul Tsongas (4%), Bill Clinton* (3%), Bob Kerrey (2%) and Jerry Brown (2%)
* February 8, 1988 - Richard 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%), 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%) and Edmund Muskie (36%), George McGovern (23%), Hubert Humphrey (2%), Eugene McCarthy (1%), Shirley Chisholm (1%) and Henry M. Jackson (1%) 
* 2004- George W. Bush* (unopposed)
* 2000- George W. Bush* (41%), Steve Forbes (30%), 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, Ronald Reagan
 See also
* Ames Straw Poll
* New Hampshire primary
* United States presidential primary
* Hull, Christopher C. 2007. Grassroots Rules: How The Iowa Caucus Helps Elect American Presidents. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press.
* Winebrenner, Hugh. 1998. The Iowa Precinct Caucuses: The Making of a Media Event. 2nd ed. Ames: Iowa State University Press.
* Squire, Peverill, ed. 1989. The Iowa Caucuses and the Presidential Nominating Process. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
“so Republican caucus voters promote a provincial ignoramus”
Come on now, Romney isn’t THAT bad!
He thinks God is dead.
Yeah, I guess I’m biased but I think the Democrat process is more vulnerable to manipulation. Because participants have to be party members and they vote openly these caucuses attract the real activists of Iowa.
“However, the Republican caucus procedure is a straight up straw poll vote (after short pitches by candidate representatives). 1 participant = 1 vote No 15% minimum or pressure to change allegiance.”
From what I read in the link, the actual republican vote is referred to as a straw poll and is only a “guide” to those actually selecting the delegates.
Like a patient teacher to a lazy student - I actually really need that today - LOL!
You are correct. If the caucus chairman desires, they can call for the straw poll (vote) to be a simple show of hands. Many simply use blank pieces of paper on which the people write the name of their candidate and put them in a box.
The way it was explained to me is that the delegates do not absolutely have to vote according to the straw poll. However, it's kind of an honor system and from I've been told the delegates almost never stray from the straw poll results for their precincts/districts.