Iowa is the starting line when it comes to presidential politics.It is the first state in the nation to cast their vote. This gives Iowa voters the ability to show support for their favorite candidates right away.
Why this matters: This is important because these first results can give an indication of how a candidate will preform with the rest of American voters.
As CNN Politics Executive Editor Mark Preston said during the 2016 primary race, Iowa “can either kill a campaign, or can launch a campaign.”
Election results in Iowa give candidates a chance to evaluate whether their platform is resonating with voters, and if they should continue their campaign strategies, or change it up.
Another reason Iowa gets attention from political candidates is because they hold caucuses rather than a primary, making voting a hands-on, community event.
So, what’s a caucus?
In the Iowa caucuses, unlike primaries countrywide, you can’t just get away with pulling a lever in a curtained polling booth at any time of the day that’s convenient.
Instead, Iowans must attend public meetings in school gyms, arts centers, churches, libraries, restaurants and even fire stations in more than a thousand precincts to vote for a candidate.
The Democratic caucus system is a little more intricate than the GOP process. As soon as the meetings open, attendees must declare a preference for a candidate.
Then, groups of voters who support the same candidate stake out positions around the room. People who still can’t make up their mind join a group known as “uncommitted.”
This is where it gets complicated: In order to be considered “viable,” a group must clear a certain threshold — usually around 15% of the entire caucus turnout in each precinct.
Once first-round votes are tallied, anyone stuck in a group that is not “viable” has the chance to align with a candidate who has passed the threshold.
Also, it’s going to be quite different this year…
In a bid to make the 2020 caucus process more accessible, democrats announced in February the creation of a “virtual caucus,” which will allow any Iowa Democrat to caucus virtually at specific times for six days leading up to the caucuses next February 3 instead of only in person on the traditional Monday night.
The change comes after Democrats across the country have pushed for changes to caucuses in order to make them more accessible to people who can’t get free at one specific time, like single parents, shift workers and people with disabilities.