The Primary Process: How and Why Iowa?

9 min readJan 27, 2020

The 2020 Democratic Iowa caucus will be held on February 3rd. It’s a highly anticipated event that serves as a litmus test for the race. Not only have the remaining candidates been scrambling to earn votes, but they’ve been aiming to grasp momentum. Although Iowa goes first in the primary process, the caucus doesn’t have a stellar record for predicting the next president. Since their creation in 1972 (the Republican Iowa caucus began in 1976), only three times has the winner of the state gone on to secure the White House win. The caucus still garners plenty of attention and scrutiny, especially this year. For democrats, the Iowa caucus is more accurate in predicting the nominee. Every caucus winner since 2000 on the democratic side has become the party’s general election nominee. The first big success who emerged from the Iowa primary was Jimmy Carter, who propelled his victory all the way to D.C. So, how did this relatively small state get dealt with the power to go first in the nation’s primary system? And why?

“The really important thing to remember about Iowa is not that it’s first because it’s important. Iowa is important because it’s first.” — Kathie O’Bradovich, Des Moines Register, 2016

The Backdrop

She is the 31st most populous state in the union, between the population counts of Utah and Nevada. Iowa’s largest exports are soybeans, pork, and corn. It is home to celebrities Johnny Carson and John Wayne. It is home to politicians, Herbert Hoover and Henry A. Wallace. Although an eagle is featured on the state flag, the state’s bird is the American goldfinch. Welcome to the Hawkeye State.

What is a caucus? Verbatim Google definition: “(in some US states) a meeting at which local members of a political party register their preference among candidates running for office or select delegates to attend a convention.” Synonym: a meeting.

This is as old-school as it sounds. A caucus is a literal get-together and in-person event where people meet at state precincts. There are 1681 such precincts in Iowa. At a specific time, registered voters gather at their precinct sites and fill the rooms (school gyms, church halls, offices…


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