The Iowa caucuses are right around the corner on January 3rd. The winter break provides a nice opportunity to discuss the caucuses and how they work with your kids. Check out this excerpt from U.S. Politics:
What Are Caucuses?
A caucus is the lowest level meeting of members of a political party where members discuss issues and select precinct representatives. During President election years, members also select delegates to attend the party convention. Caucuses are considered grassroots events because they are held at the precinct level; venues may be school gymnasiums or someone’s living room. Iowa has about 1,800 precincts.
This Google Map displays live news and events from across the state; both the Democratic and Republican parties are partnering with Google to present real-time caucus results.
Any registered voter can participate in a caucus. Parties require that voters re-register as a party member; a voter can attend only one party’s caucus.
What Happens At A Caucus Meeting?
Caucus meetings are personal — no voting machines here. The precinct chair will convene the meeting; those attending discuss the various candidates who are seeking the nomination. They may also discuss party platform issues. After everyone has had their say, there’s a vote, which is usually public (viva-voce). Republican and Democratic parties have different voting procedures.
How Do Democrats Select Delegates?
How Do Republicans Select Delegates?
What Happens Next?
The press reports a “winner” based upon the percentage of delegates won by each candidate. History suggests that how well candidates meet or exceed expectations may be as crucial as an actual “win.”
Delegates selected at precinct caucuses move on to a county convention (99 counties; 1 March for Rs, 15 March for Ds), where a sub-set of delegates is selected to attend the district, then state convention. At the state convention (14 June), a sub-set of delegates is selected to attend the national convention.
For Democrats, the number of state delegates is proportional to the number of votes received at the state caucus. For Republicans, the winner gets all of party delegates at the national convention.
How Did This System Develop?
Even before Iowa became a state in 1846, the political system was based upon caucuses to nominate political leaders. In the early 1970s, the Democratic party changed the delegate selection process to make it more inclusive. In 1972, state leaders moved the caucuses to January, making it an early test for candidates. In 1976, Republicans moved their caucus date to match the Democrats. Since then, candidates and national media have observed the Iowa caucuses as the “First in the Nation” presidential event.