The Iowa Caucuses kick off the Presidential primary season with Democratic candidates vying for a share of the 41 delegates Iowa sends to the Democratic National Convention. While the total number of delegates up for grabs is relatively modest compared to larger states, the Iowa caucuses are vitally important for candidates since they mark the official start of the Presidential primary and a strong performance can be used as a springboard for a candidate as they move forward in the long nomination process.
The 2020 Caucuses are on Monday, Feb. 3 and begin at 7:00p.m. CST. A caucus can last upwards of two hours before a final count is tallied and reported to state party headquarters. Candidates are awarded delegates based off the percentage of people who caucused for them throughout the state, so long as they meet the fifteen percent "viability threshold."
Contrary to popular understanding, the Iowa Democratic Party doesn’t actually declare a winner on caucus night. Instead, the candidate who received the most “State Delegate Equivalents” is often declared the "winner" by local and national media.
Iowa is one of three states that holds a Presidential caucus. The caucuses are closed, which means a voter must be a registered Republican to participate in the Republican caucus and a registered Democrat to participate in the Democratic caucus.
If a caucus goer is not registered to vote they can do so on caucus night at their designated caucus site and any currently registered voter has the opportunity to change their party affiliation at their designated caucus site, as well.
Delegates are awarded proportionally, so a candidate can win the caucus with a plurality of the vote. However, every candidate must meet the viability threshold of fifteen percent in order to be eligible for any delegates.
Once all of the caucuses have concluded the results are reported to the state political parties and then to the press. Cable news channels like CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC will air coverage discussing the results from a variety of political angles and also carry speeches by the various candidates as they happen.
The Iowa caucuses can make or break a campaign, especially on the Democratic side. Since 2000, the winner has gone on to become the Democratic nominee in every single election. So even though the total number delegates a candidate can win in Iowa is minimal compared to large states like California and Texas, the press coverage that comes with doing well there can have a lasting impact on a campaign.