North Texas Daily

The Iowa caucuses: Should Texans care? Probably.

The Iowa caucuses: Should Texans care? Probably.

February 01
10:56 2016

Kyle Martin | Staff Writer


Candidates running for president have so far spent a lot of time in states like Iowa and New Hampshire. That’s because they are the first two states to begin selecting the nominee for each party. The results of those nominating processes usually, political scientists say, cast a big shadow of the national electorate.

What’s so special about Iowa? It’s the nation’s first caucus. What’s a caucus? Keep reading.

Before the general election that takes place in November, there are primary elections and caucuses. Primaries are secret ballot elections, wherein voters take to the polls to cast their vote for their favorite candidate (like we do here in Texas). Primaries can be open or closed to the public — open meaning that anyone may partake in voting, closed meaning one must be a part of a political party to vote in their corresponding party’s primary.  Caucuses are similar, but still differ in the way the process is handled.

Caucuses are more so a series of town meetings, or forums, wherein state residents meet to discuss who they would like to receive their state’s votes. And how people caucus depends on which party they belong to. It’s more simple for Republicans, but heated and potentially complicated for Democrats.

Here’s how it works for Republicans: closed caucus (not so complicated)

That means caucus-goers meet at a gym or something, say the Pledge of Allegiance and then begin tallying votes on either a ballot or maybe even a blank piece of paper. Before the final votes are cast to the precinct, representatives of each candidate have a last-minute opportunity to try and persuade undecided voters to caucus for their candidate. Pretty simply, right?

Caucusing for a Democrat: open caucus (can be pretty complicated)

Here is where it can get a little crazy. Here, like the Republicans, Democrats gather at gyms or auditoriums at each of the precincts in Iowa. After the opening, caucus-goers move to areas of the room dedicated to each of the Democratic presidential candidates. So if want to caucus for Bernie, you’d go to the Bernie corner. But your candidate must have at least 15 percent of the precinct-wide vote to be considered a “viable candidate” (thus the importance of all that time spent in Iowa). You could also choose to move to the “uncommitted” corner. That’s the first round; votes are tallied. If your candidate is not viable, you have the opportunity to realign with another candidate.

There’s a lot of pressure here, because people caucusing for other candidates are trying to persuade you to move to their candidate — no privacy in voting.

Dr. Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, professor and chair of political science at UNT weighs in on the caucuses

The Iowa caucus on Feb. 1 and the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9 are the first to gauge what the American public is thinking. Being that they are the first primary and caucus to take place, their results hold colossal influence on the rest of the political race. If a candidate doesn’t receive good marks from the two states and voters don’t show their support, campaign donors and contributors begin to pull their funds and candidates lose momentum. The idea is to get as many people as possible into the polls and get them to vote.

“If the voting block that you think is going to support you is in Iowa and they don’t vote for you, there’s no hope,” Dr. Eshbaugh-Soha said. ” You’re going to drop out. Even though the delegate counts for Iowa and New Hampshire are, of course, miniscule compared to California and Texas, Iowa and New Hampshire are infinitely more important to candidates.”

That’s why Iowa and New Hampshire get so much news media coverage this time of year, and that’s why candidates take their campaigns to the Midwest. Simply put: they are first. This is where the American people get to see who is really in the running for President of the United States.

In this first round of voting, candidates are put to the test and voters get to see who may be front runners for nomination. It’s the first real exposure the general public gets to see of where their candidates stand with the rest of the country.

The best part of it all: this is the official start to the presidential race, which means all of that horse race coverage is about to go into overdrive. The circus will be in Texas next month, on March 1, when the primaries begin (we’ll have an explainer on that one too).

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