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The Drama of Iowa

Called Game Day by many, the Iowa caucus marks the official start of the 2016 Presidential Election. Up until today, the election was largely being contested in the wings, through televised debates, over social media and recorded in the polls. On the 1st of February, the people of Iowa get to fire the first shot of election season and what they decide is crucial, or so it seems anyway.

Many wonder why the Iowa caucus, along with the New Hampshire Primary are deemed so important. After all, Iowa isn’t demographically representative of the US population and yet people see it as a predictor of the ultimate party picks. The power and influence of Iowa are largely embedded in tradition and doesn’t seem to be in following with the growing trajectory of the US landscape but…

FACT: Since 1972, no Democratic or Republican candidates who finished worse than 4th place in Iowa has gone on to win their party’s nomination.

So why is this?

First impressions count for everything and Iowa seem to be the interviewer that every other state gauges which candidate gets the job. The first contest is hugely influential because it demonstrates who has put in the hard yards.

  • Ground Game: It shows your ability to organise, to get people on the ground and to have voters enthusiastically support you. Donald Trump may have the largest social media presence but if his virtual fans don’t come out and vote, what has he accomplished?

  • The Domino Effect: Iowa tends to affect how people in the next state vote. When the results are tallied, it helps voters to adjust their expectations accordingly. The winners of the Iowa caucuses tend to get more air time and the media will champion their campaign.

  • The Weakest Link: Candidates tend to drop out after Iowa and New Hampshire. Donors and activists look at the Iowa results and judge whether their candidate is deserving of continued support or funding. There is sadly no prize for runners-up and millions are at stake.

Iowans vote in caucuses, which are small political meetings held throughout 1,681 locations scattered around the state. They are similar to primaries in that residents cast ballots for their preferred party candidate, and whatever garners the most votes wins. On the republican side, the caucuses are straightforward, voters turn up, listen to speeches and then cast their vote by secret ballot. Votes are then counted statewide and a winner is ultimately announced.

On the Democratic side, the process is more complex and time-consuming. A voter must physically go stand with fellow supporters of your preferred candidate. There is no secret ballot, and if a Democratic candidate doesn’t get enough supporters in a precinct (15%), he or she is eliminated - kinda like Survivor. Those who voted for a losing candidate are then coaxed by others to join their side and to vote for the candidate of choice. At the end, the results are collated across the state in all precincts.

So yes, a caucus is probably more effort than a primary but that only adds to the drama: Game Day it is!

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