Okay – by now we know that Ted Cruz has won it. But what exactly is the Iowa Caucus?
It’s a key first step in the road to the White House, and an artifact of the less-than perfectly rational U.S. electoral system.
Earlier tonight, Kyle Munson with the De Moines Register joined us on the show to break down what the caucus is and how it works.
Munson explains the Iowa Caucus is a part of the U.S. primary system – that is, the means by which each party eventually chooses its candidate for president.
Voters of each party gather and pick their preferred candidate; the winner of the state collects “super delegates” to take to their party’s national convention.
First in the nation
But what makes Iowa really special is that it’s the first state on the calendar.
“This is the first indication of what candidate really has the force and the momentum behind them to become President.”
Munson says there’s even a bit of political theatre, at least on the Democratic side.
Republicans vote by secret ballot. But the Democrats gather in a room, then separate into corners depending on which candidate they support.
“Obviously the democratic style tends to be more dramatic. And you have people like, I’ve watched tonight cajoling their neighbours. If you have a group that’s not viable… I just saw for instance some bernie supporters trying to get some [third place candidate Martin] O’Malley supporters to come to their side.”
Munson says Iowa rose to prominence in the 1970s, after major breakdowns in the electoral system turned up in the 1960s. Jimmy Carter swept through the state, won early, built momentum – and helped the state become an important part of the primary calendar.
“And now they’re this international TV reality show spectacle. I ran into today a student from vancouver who was here to just watch it all unfold, a political science student.”
So how does Iowa do as far as predicting winners?
Munson says it’s not always accurate – particularly on the Republican side. Reagan, for example, lost to George H.W. Bush, but won the Oval Office.
On the other hand, Obama took Iowa, which was seen as key to electrifying his base and cutting into Clinton’s supposed ‘front runner’ status in 2008.
But he says it’s always been effective at one thing.
“Iowa always does it’s job, and that is thinning the herd. That is, you have to have some kind of process by which you go from a vast array of candidates down to a few viable candidates.”