It was early November, and it was ten degrees with overcast clouds and very sharp winds. I had just set foot in Des Moines, Iowa to partake in a couple days of campaigning. But why? Because in two weeks every single presidential candidate would flock to the frost-bitten city to encourage the local Iowans to caucus for them.
Each Iowan is assigned a local gym or school, depending on where they live, to show up on caucus night. There, they will sort themselves into different corners of the room by candidate. At this point, the initial numbers are counted. All candidates who move on to the next round must have support of fifteen percent or more of the total people in the room. The realignment and state delegate equivalents are calculated after the first round of preferences. The Iowa caucus began the moment Iowa entered the Union in 1846 and has always been the first state to participate. However, the significance placed on it only came into play within the past few decades. Since 1972, seven of the ten candidates who placed top three in the caucus went on to be the Democratic nomination. Unlike their primary counterparts, caucuses require their citizens to be present on the night of the caucus.
This year, the caucuses seemed to hold more weight than many of the previous ones due to the polarized climate of our country. February 3, 2020, the Iowa Caucus became the buzz of the nation as many are filled with urgency. With doors opening early afternoon and closing strictly at 7:00, thousands of Iowans rushed to their local caucuses. CBSN commented on their live coverage stating that 35 percent of caucus goers were first time participants. This means not only were people showing up, but the younger generation was showing up to support their candidate. This type of turnout would be beneficial for Senator Bernie Sanders, who has been encouraging and gaining the popularity of millennials and Gen Zers.
As the whole nation was waiting for the results of the Iowa Caucus, there was a lot of confusion about what was happening. Not only was the final delegate count not in, but neither of the first two rounds were either. It wasn’t until late that night that the numbers began to be calculated, but they abruptly stopped when 65 percent of the precincts were in. At that point Pete Buttigieg was in the lead with Sanders tightly behind him. It was clear that the final results would not be in by the end of the night, so all candidates began to give speeches to their audiences in a victorious yet uncertain tone. However, there was immediate backlash when Buttigieg gave a speech stating that they were going to New Hampshire “victorious” without knowing the final results. While this backlash came from those opposing Buttigieg, it also stemmed from the frustration of the whole caucus process that had happened that night.
As Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist stated, the process of the Iowa caucus is very similar to that of a “mini electoral college” and it inherently has flaws. Going into the night, many news anchors were talking about the oddity of using such an old fashioned system when we have new technologies in place. However, by the end of the night, the conversation shifted from using more technology to not being too dependent on it so that future outcomes would not repeat from that night. Due to an app crash, the final numbers were not able to be calculated until a few days later, which caused an outrage for citizens across the country. However, technology was just one of the many complaints. One of the biggest and most debated complaints was why Iowa went first. By going first, Iowa is able to significantly influence upcoming primaries and caucuses, and force low performing candidates out of the race.
As a nation that wants democracy, especially when deciding our new commander-in-chief, the Iowa caucus seems like a contradiction. Not only does it use delegates instead of a popular vote, it is also about 90 percent white. For a state that holds the power to determine a potential president, the lack of diversity is a problem. Not only are there a small percentage of people of color in the state, but of those very few of them are actually allowed to vote. Why? Because “Iowa is the only state with a lifetime ban from voting for people with felony records” according to the ACLU. This law inherently hurts communities of color more than anyone else, due to our country’s systemic racial oppression perpetuated through the criminal justice system. This causes very low turnout rates for most communities of color as there is no support system for them. In 2016, only 3,000 Hispanics caucused out of the 50,000 that were registered to do so. The Iowa caucuses have never been supportive of people of color, which is one of the biggest reasons that Buttigieg won Iowa. Buttigieg’s main audience is educated whites, and he has consistently had trouble supporting communities of color. But because both Iowa and New Hampshire go first, he will have a benefit he wouldn’t have if South Carolina or Nevada went first.
The Iowa caucus, while deeply flawed, is hugely important to choosing our future president. We need to start examining the faults in the system because it currently does not reflect our nation as a whole.