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.
Why the Iowa Caucuses Are Important
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.
While the total number delegates a candidate can win in Iowa is modest compared to large states like California and Texas, the press coverage that comes with doing well in Iowa can have a lasting impact on a campaign. Since the press tends to put far more weight on who "won" or "lost" the caucuses and not necessarily the exact number of delegates a specific candidate will be receiving, the results from the night will almost certainly divide the field into who has a realistic chance of going deep into the primary and who won't.
Because the results of the Iowa caucuses can have a reverberating effect on a Presidential campaign, it is no surprise that every major candidate spends an extensive amount of time meeting with Iowans throughout the state in the months leading up to them and attempts to capitalize on any major endorsement they receive from prominent local and state politicians and local newspapers.
Who Can Participate in the Iowa Caucuses
Any Iowan who is a U.S. citizen, a resident of Iowa, will be 18 years old on or before November 3, 2020, and hasn't been convicted of a felony may participate in the Iowa caucuses. That means seventeen year old's may participate in a caucus as long as they will be 18 on or before election day.
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.
Iowa Caucus Media Coverage
Cable news channels like CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and Bloomberg air extensive coverage the day of the Iowa caucus, discussing them from a variety of political angles and offering commentary on all the potential scenarios that could unfold.
Once all of the caucuses have concluded the results are reported to the state political parties and then to the press. Major networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX will often interrupt regular programming to announce the winner of the caucuses, but will leave the in-depth coverage of the evening for the cable news channels to cover.
Every candidate who participated in the caucus typically gives some type of speech at the conclusion of the evening with the winner usually waiting to speak until all the other candidates have finished their speeches to supporters.
The candidate who wins the Iowa caucuses is all but guaranteed intense media coverage for an entire week since there is an eight-day break between the Iowa caucuses and the next state primary contest, so it is hard to overstate just how important the caucuses are for a campaign.