How the Iowa caucuses work (part 1), w/poll

Great information--Chris

This diary is not a defense of the Iowa caucuses. Frankly, I would much rather have a presidential primary, in which each person can cast one vote using a secret ballot. The caucuses are unfair to shift workers who can't get a Monday night off, elderly people who don't like to go out at night or head south for the winter, handicapped people who prefer to vote by absentee ballot, parents who can't leave young children for an hour or more at bedtime, people who do not want to declare a political preference in public, etc. Moreover, the caucus system does not count everyone's vote equally.

But here in Iowa, we're stuck with this system. All of you may as well learn how the caucuses work and why we say things like, "Iowa is notoriously hard to poll" and "Organization is really important in Iowa" and "Second choices matter in Iowa" and "Broad support across Iowa is crucial."

Political junkies, follow me after the jump for part one of this series, which explains how delegates are assigned on the Democratic side in the Iowa caucuses.

The first thing you need to know about the Iowa caucuses is that only 3,000 "votes" matter. Those are the 3,000 delegates assigned statewide. When Kerry won Iowa in 2004 with 38 percent of the "vote," this does not refer to raw numbers of people who showed up to caucus. It means that Kerry won 38 percent of the 3,000 delegates.  

Iowa has 99 counties, but the largest nine contribute roughly half of the delegates.

The delegates are allocated among the counties according to a mathematical formula based on the number of votes a precinct cast for the Democratic candidates for president and governor during the last two general elections.

So, counties that cast large numbers of votes for John Kerry in 2004 and Chet Culver in 2006 will have more Democratic delegates to assign during next January's caucus than those that are less Democratic. Counties that are trending Democratic (cast more votes for Kerry and Culver than they did for Gore in 2000 and Vilsack in 2002) may get more delegates to assign than they had in the 2004 Iowa caucuses.

Last month the blog Iowa Progress posted a chart showing how many delegates will come from each county in the January 2008 caucus. As I mentioned above, the top nine counties will account for about half of all the 3,000 delegates. About a third of the counties assign ten or fewer delegates for the whole county. If you really want to delve into Iowa political geography, check out the chart here.

These are the eleven largest Democratic counties; collectively they will assign about 1,600 of the 3,000 delegates. I've put the main population center of each county in parentheses:

Polk (Des Moines) 428 delegates
Linn (Cedar Rapids) 243 delegates
Scott (Davenport and Bettendorf, the Iowa side of the Quad Cities) 170 delegates
Johnson (Iowa City, University of Iowa) 164 delegates
Black Hawk (Waterloo) 140 delegates
Dubuque (Dubuque) 107 delegates
Story (Ames, Iowa State University) 92 delegates
Woodbury (Sioux City) 81 delegates
Pottawattamie (Council Bluffs, across the river from Omaha, Nebraska) 66 delegates
Clinton (Clinton) 55 delegates
Cerro Gordo (Mason City) 55 delegates

Within counties, delegates are NOT awarded by a winner-take-all system. They are allocated among the precincts (there are just under 2,000 precincts statewide), based again on how many votes were cast in that precinct for Democrats at the top of the ticket in recent general elections.

By way of example, my precinct in the Des Moines suburbs has six delegates to assign in the caucus. That number will not change, whether 50 people or 500 people show up on caucus night. A neighboring precinct that is more Democratic has eight delegates to assign. Next January, even if we have 300 people in our precinct caucus and the neighboring one has 100 people in the room, we will still get to assign six delegates, and they will get to assign eight.

Yes, I know this is undemocratic. Didn't I say at the top that I would rather have a primary?

Within precincts, delegates are NOT awarded by a winner-take-all system. They are allocated according to a complicated mathematical formula. The most important part of this formula is that a candidate needs at least 15 percent of the people in the room to win any delegates from that precinct. Any candidate falling below 15 percent is not "viable," and that candidate's supporters can choose a different candidate, or they can try to persuade people from one of the other groups to come over and help them be viable, or they can caucus as "uncommitted."

Think about how unfair that is. My vote only gets to count toward the candidate of my choosing if at least 15 percent of my neighbors who show up on a cold night in January agree with me. In my white-collar suburb, that meant that you were out of luck if you wanted to caucus for Gephardt or Kucinich in 2004. They were well below the viability threshold. People living in a different part of Des Moines might get to join a group large enough to win delegates for Gephardt or Kucinich, but not in my neighborhood. In my precinct Dean was also just barely short of viability at the first count, but people in his group were able to persuade a couple of others to join them--hence Dean gained one delegate.

The 15 percent threshold for viability is one reason why the caucus results do not necessarily reflect the raw votes, as William Saletan and Matt Schiller wrote during the last election cycle. Like I said, I prefer primaries.

But the salient point is, pockets of heavy support in Iowa are less valuable than broad support spread across the state. The winner needs to be viable in as many precincts as possible. Thousands of people might turn out for you on a college campus, but if you are not viable in a lot of other areas, you probably won't win the caucuses.

If you are a real junkie, look at the caucus results from 2004 by county.

The chart is hard to read, but one thing that's easy to notice is that Kerry and Edwards were viable just about everywhere. There are huge differences in how the counties voted--in some areas Kerry crushed Edwards, and in some areas Edwards crushed Kerry. But you can tell that they were not shut out in many areas. Kerry did a lot better in some of the population-rich eastern counties, but Edwards was able to make up much of the difference by edging out Kerry in Polk County and dominating many of the small and medium-sized counties.

Later installments of this series will discuss how campaigns get supporters to the caucuses, why volunteer precinct captains are important, why Iowa polls don't necessarily predict caucus results, and which candidates benefit most from the caucus system.

Take the poll, and if you've lived in Iowa or worked on a campaign there, share your Iowa caucus stories in the comments.

(cross-posted at Daily Kos)

Tags: 2008 Presidential election, Iowa Caucuses (all tags)



Re: How the Iowa caucuses work (part 1), w/poll

This is very helpful as I am accustomed to one vote per person.  I wonder if this is universal for all caucuses?

by benny06 2007-02-27 08:47AM | 0 recs
different states have different rules

In fact, I think the Iowa Republican Party's rules are slightly different from the Democrats', but I haven't attended a GOP caucus so can't say for sure.

by desmoinesdem 2007-02-27 08:51AM | 0 recs
Republican caucuses aren't caucuses

Republicans just have a straw poll.  Then they elect their delegates at large (after the non-regulars go home thinking they've "voted")

by jdeeth 2007-02-27 04:53PM | 0 recs
Re: How the Iowa caucuses work (part 1), w/poll

This is very helpful as I am accustomed to one vote per person.  I wonder if this is universal for all caucuses?

Back when VA had caucuses the local committees could set the rules, Arlington had a county wide caucus, the city of Richmond had a precinct system. In addition to its other defects, a precinct system dilutes the black vote, a big defect for a party dependent on the black vote in the general election.

by Alice Marshall 2007-02-27 02:00PM | 0 recs
Re: How the Iowa caucuses work (part 1), w/poll

Great diary. Thanks.

by kundalini 2007-02-27 09:24AM | 0 recs


by Fran for Dean 2007-02-27 09:38AM | 0 recs
I don't understand the question

I wrote the diary to try to explain the system for those who don't know how it works.

by desmoinesdem 2007-02-27 09:40AM | 0 recs
Re: I don't understand the question

Sorry, I guess I wasn't very clear.

My "why???" was in reference to how idiotic the Iowa caucus system is in general, not to your diary.

by Fran for Dean 2007-02-27 09:49AM | 0 recs
Re: I don't understand the question

Your diary was quite good, and I appreciate the fact that you're taking the time to explain this idiotic system.

by Fran for Dean 2007-02-27 09:51AM | 0 recs
NH law says they get the first primary

So Iowa has to have caucuses. Why they have the particular rules such as the 15 percent threshold, I don't know. Presumably to narrow the field to the top tier.

by desmoinesdem 2007-02-27 10:24AM | 0 recs
Re: NH law says they get the first primary

State leaders in both parties could swallow their pride (just as NH should do) and not be as selfish as they are being with this crap.  At this point without a joint GOP/DEM effort, these two states will continue to hold a lot of sway... which is sort of sad and wrong given that the two states no where near reflect the makeup of the country.  The other option would be to move ALL the others back two months, which frankly would rob NH and Iowa of some of their power in this situation.  

by yitbos96bb 2007-02-27 10:51AM | 0 recs

That's a national party standard in states that have primaries delegates are awarded after the 15% level is reached.  I believe it was higher, maybe 20%, until `88.  Jesse Jackson Sr. pushed for the drop from 20 to 15 after his first campaign in `84.

by jdeeth 2007-02-27 04:55PM | 0 recs
Re: I don't understand the question

I wouldn't call the system "idiotic".  It has a lot of advantages.  For instance it filters out spoiler votes by only giving delegates to people with enough support to earn them.  Under this system someone can show their support for their initial candidate and still have their vote count towards a delegate by moving to whoever they prefer out of the top choices.  

Also, unlike normal primary voting you actually feel like your vote counts.  Not only do you count as one vote supporting your candidate, but you have the chance to make the case for your candidate to the people that have to leave their initial inviable candidate.  The candidates with the strongest supporters can actually benefit from this.

For all the reasons this diary listed, it is in ways unfair, but lets not kid ourselves regular polling isn't exactly fair either.  Urban areas end up with far too long of lines and many people don't vote because they feel like it's a waste of time since the election statistically will almost never be determined by their single vote.  In a caucus there is much more feeling of civic involvement and reason to vote.

by blueryan 2007-02-27 01:05PM | 0 recs
there certainly is a feeling of civic involvement

The atmosphere in the caucus room is fun, at least it has been the times I've been there. You get to know your Democratic neighbors in a way you wouldn't if we had a primary.

by desmoinesdem 2007-02-27 02:50PM | 0 recs


We had 500 people in a school gym...

by jdeeth 2007-02-27 04:56PM | 0 recs
well, yes, ours was in a school gym too

My brother went to a Democratic caucus in 1976 in our precinct--only about 25 people in someone's living room. Just goes to show you that the older suburban neighborhoods have gotten a lot more Democratic over the years (I'm in Windsor Heights).

by desmoinesdem 2007-02-27 06:01PM | 0 recs
Re: How the Iowa caucuses work (part 1), w/poll

 A test of which candidates have the broadest demographic and committed supporters and unpaid volunteers who will work for them.

by TarHeel 2007-02-27 09:41AM | 0 recs
unpaid volunteers are very important

GOTV is expensive, but we all know that hearing from a neighbor is more persuasive than hearing from a hired staffer or someone calling from another state. I know of quite a few people who ended up in our Kerry group at the caucus because I got them there. Who knows? My efforts may have boosted kerry from 2 delegates to 3 delegates in my precinct. Multiply that by several hundred precincts and it can make a difference.

If Edwards had had as large a network of precinct captains as Kerry, I believe he would have won the caucuses in 2004.

by desmoinesdem 2007-02-27 10:27AM | 0 recs
Re: unpaid volunteers are very important

Excellent diary!

Agree with your point about unpaid volunteers but I have to wonder if some campaigns actually value  work or do they value only wealth?

Truly people powered campaigns that attract a lof of individuals who will work for free, understand the importance of giving their volunteers a little cache and respect.

by NCDemAmy 2007-02-27 12:41PM | 0 recs
Unpaid volunteers are very important

You're right. I was one of those unpaid Edwards supporters.  We had a tiny operation compared to Kerry.  With three more days, we intrepid few would have turned the tide, I've been told by an MSNBC reporter.  That caucus night was darn cold but damn sweet.  

by Feral Cat 2007-02-27 12:55PM | 0 recs
Re: How the Iowa caucuses work (part 1), w/poll

Yes -- Thanks (This is a keeper).

by SandThroughTheEyeGlass 2007-02-27 10:00AM | 0 recs
I'm a relatively new Democrat

I went to my first Democratic caucus in 2004; in 2000 I went to the Republican caucus and voted against George Bush for the first of two times that year.

I don't remember the details now of the Republican caucus, but I remember they did a show of hands to see how many for each of the presidential candidates, and there was a period where we brought up concerns that we wanted the party to address. (Mine was fiscal responsibility, from the restless shifting around me I would guess that clashed with desire to lower taxes.)  As we left, I looked down the hall where the Democrats were meeting, sure sounded like they were having more fun. (Our meeting was kind of grim.)

by RunawayRose 2007-02-27 11:28AM | 0 recs
I never knew this is how Iowa had their primary.

Thanks for the look inside, I wonder how many other states are like Iowa.

by dk2 2007-02-27 12:07PM | 0 recs
Re: How the Iowa caucuses work (part 1), w/poll

I wonder if Nevada will run theirs the same way? Guessing probably so but anyone have an idea?

The necessity of broad support to win overall is very interesting. Completely counter to what happens in the general where support and turnout in key Democratic areas is so crucial.

by okamichan13 2007-02-27 12:50PM | 0 recs
underscores one argument in favor of the system

To win, candidates need to be able to connect with voters in different types of areas demographically. It's important to have a candidate who can communicate well with voters in those medium-sized and small cities and towns too.

by desmoinesdem 2007-02-27 12:54PM | 0 recs
"If you liked the FL recount,

you'll love the Iowa Caucuses" is William Saletan's subtitle. Great article.

by Feral Cat 2007-02-27 02:26PM | 0 recs
Re: How the Iowa caucuses work (part 1), w/poll

Nice Diary.

I live in one of the most progressive precincts in Iowa City so Kucinich had no problem getting 15%.

It actually went

Dean     2
Kucinich 2
Kerry    1
Edwards  1

by The Animal 2007-02-27 01:01PM | 0 recs
Re: How the Iowa caucuses work (part 1), w/poll

Wow did your precinct give Kucinich his only delegates?  My precinct is extremely Democratic being in the heart of Des Moines and a University and we gave Dean 1, Kerry 1, and Edwards 1.  Almost nobody was stupid enough to support Kucinich.

by blueryan 2007-02-27 01:09PM | 0 recs
no, several precincts in Des Moines did too

I have several friends who were in Des Moines precincts where Kucinich was viable. There was one precinct that gave Kucinich, Kerry and Edwards each 3 delegates. Dean was not even viable there.

Kucinich did best in the Fairfield area (site of Maharishi University). Click through to the 2004 results and see Jefferson County--that's where Fairfield is.

by desmoinesdem 2007-02-27 01:10PM | 0 recs
Re: How the Iowa caucuses work (part 1), w/poll

Kucinich got 22 out of 30 Johnson County convention delegates in 2004, plus who knows how many hidden in Edwards and other preference groups.

I should explain "delegates."  Stop reading now unless you're wonky.

The delegate counts desmoinesdem lists are delegates to the STATE convention.  Those delegates are elected at a COUNTY convention.  It is the COUNTY convention delegates that are elected on caucus night.  

The counties set their own convention size ans delegates are apportioned by precinct based on the same Culver+Kerry votes formula that the state uses to apportion state convention delegates by county.

There's also congressional district conventions but those are the same people as the state conventions.

The district and state conventions elect the NATIONAL delegates who get to go to Denver.

by jdeeth 2007-02-27 05:15PM | 0 recs
true, good point

Yes, I should have made clear that the precincts are choosing county delegates. Some of the smaller counties have more precincts than state delegates--it wouldn't be possible for each precinct to select even one state delegate in those areas.

But the results reported by the media reflect the estimated state delegates--Kerry got about 1,128 of the 3,000, hence his victory with 38 percent of the "vote."

by desmoinesdem 2007-02-27 06:11PM | 0 recs
Re: How the Iowa caucuses work (part 1), w/poll

Which IC precinct?  I was in IC22, one of the biggest in town.  We had Kerry 3, Dean 3, Edwards 2, Kucinich 2.  The entire Gephardt group marched en masse to Kerry...

by jdeeth 2007-02-27 04:58PM | 0 recs
Re: How the Iowa caucuses work (part 1), w/poll

This is a reply to ancient history in blog time, but I'm in IC21. I think Bush finished 3rd here in 2000.

by The Animal 2007-03-01 10:07AM | 0 recs
Re: How the Iowa caucuses work (part 1), w/poll

Very informative diary. Is there already an election buzz in the air there? In your opinion, what are the issues that the candidates will have to focus on to keep the voters attention?

by Kingstongirl 2007-02-27 01:14PM | 0 recs
I have not started working my precinct yet

so can only tell you what my friends and acquaintances are saying.

Right now most people are taking a wait and see attitude. I know several people who went to see Obama in Ames the weekend he announced his candidacy, and most came away saying he's a good speaker but they want to see more from him and the other candidates.

I don't know any activist/volunteer types who are supporting or even considering Clinton. I think she will have trouble putting together a network of dedicated precinct captains.

Last week I contacted everyone I knew (not many) who were supporting Vilsack. Those who got back to me said they are undecided now and are going to take their time before committing to anyone else.

In a later diary in this series, I will say more about how Iowans make their minds up. Contrary to what you will hear from some Deaniacs about Iowans doing what "the establishment" tells them to do, my perception is that the people who bother to come to the caucuses think hard and gather a lot of information before making a choice.

by desmoinesdem 2007-02-27 02:42PM | 0 recs
oops--hit "post" before finishing that!

Here are some other thoughts:

Most people who supported Edwards last time are still enthusiastically for Edwards, at least among the people I know. This would account for his lead in most Iowa polls. Edwards comes across very well in the small towns and rural areas.

There is a lot of interest in Obama, with lots of Iowa Democrats wanting to see him in person. I think he has the potential to do very well here. His biggest problem will be heavy support concentrated in some parts of the state rather than spread evenly. I sense that a lot of people are now undecided between Edwards and Obama. That is true for at least one of my friends who volunteered for Kerry last time.

There is some curiosity about Clinton, but everyone I know personally who went to see her when she was in Des Moines a few weeks back was just curious and will not support her at the caucus. I know a few big donors who are for Clinton, but no one who would be out there knocking on doors.

The most prominent Iowan who supported Kucinich last time, Ed Fallon, has endorsed Edwards. (Ed ran for governor last year and finished a very strong third in the Democratic primary--very popular with activists.) I have not heard from my friends who backed Kucinich whether they will support him or Edwards this time.

My sense is that there is an opening for Richardson, because some people like governors and now he's the only one in the race.

A lot of people will not make up their minds until they've seen some debates or at least more of the candidates in person.

by desmoinesdem 2007-02-27 02:48PM | 0 recs
Re: How the Iowa caucuses work (part 1), w/poll

Within precincts, delegates are NOT awarded by a winner-take-all system. They are allocated according to a complicated mathematical formula. The most important part of this formula is that a candidate needs at least 15 percent of the people in the room to win any delegates from that precinct. Any candidate falling below 15 percent is not "viable," and that candidate's supporters can choose a different candidate, or they can try to persuade people from one of the other groups to come over and help them be viable, or they can caucus as "uncommitted."

See, this is the part that's always bothered me. The weird "one person, 1/n votes where n depends on district" thing isn't even so bad. What bothers me is the voting mechanism itself.

While the 15 percent thing is in a sense neat-- it's got a bit of an aspect of instant runoff voting to it-- everything else about this "stand here to vote" voting mechanism is just nuts. It's not secret. It's not personal. While voter intimidation or pressuring would be considered sacrilegious in any other voting system, here trying to persuade the other voters to come to your side of the room is expected. Maybe I can't really judge without having experienced this system, but it sounds like in practice this would just turn into a contest to see who can yell most coercively. Considering the Iowa caucus quite seriously has the ability to determine who becomes the next president, I'd want who succeeds to be the person who best made their case to Iowans and garnered the most supporters. Not the person whose supporters are best at playing a warped little game which is combination freeform public debate and Red Rover.

by Silent sound 2007-02-27 01:32PM | 0 recs
Re: How the Iowa caucuses work (part 1), w/poll

You have to understand that these are midwesterners.  As a group, we are not particularly prone to coercive yelling.  I'm not from Iowa and have never voted in the caucuses, but I would imagine it doesn't match what you're describing.  

by Valatan 2007-02-27 01:50PM | 0 recs
not much persuasion goes on at the caucus

There are few undecideds, and most people have already determined their second choices as well.

In my experience the atmosphere has not been coercive, but I think many people stay home because they don't want to declare a preference in public. I personally identified more than one Kerry supporter who didn't want to come to the caucus for this reason.

by desmoinesdem 2007-02-27 02:13PM | 0 recs
Re: How the Iowa caucuses work (part 1), w/poll

I believe that the premise is that these are members of a political party trying to select someone to present to the general public to try to gain their support ... and exercising their freedom of assembly to do so.

I have never heard even the most ardent fan of caucuses as "citizen involvement" etc. suggest that our actual franchise should be exercised in a caucus.

by BruceMcF 2007-02-27 06:48PM | 0 recs
Re: How the Iowa caucuses work (part 1), w/poll

I think this explains why Dean and his "Perfect Storm" may have failed in the Caucuses.  Because the system seems to rely more on a "friends and neighbors" mentality, the act of thousands of orange-capped twenty-somethings storming into Iowa actually made people less inclined to support Dean.

by Vox Populi 2007-02-27 01:35PM | 0 recs
Perfect Storm

The orange hats were a major flop.  I was out doorknocking in Iowa City (I'm a local) with an earnest volunteer from Florida.  At about half the doors we got asked "where ya from?"  At that point I generally took over the rap...

Still very much a friends and neighbors thing.  Which is one of things the Republicans do better than us.  We're great at getting on line and getting  folks to bring their cell phones to a phone bank in California to call into swing states.  The Republicans get Millie from the neighborhood church.  They've got old-fashioned social networks and our virtual social networks can't always equal it.

by jdeeth 2007-02-27 05:02PM | 0 recs
Re: How the Iowa caucuses work (part 1), w/poll

Personally, I like the system.

The 15% rule keeps fringe candidates from distorting the results and/or splitting the vote -- their support will go to a viable candidate whose positions can be borne.

The delegates per district based on prior election rule helps to ensure candidates are selected that reflect how the state will vote overall.

A one man, one vote approach would unduely bias the selection towards candidates popular with activists and single-issue voters. Anyone could get all of the college campuses to come out in droves with the promise of free college education -- doesn't mean you'd be picking the best candidate to win in the fall.

We're just trying to figure out viability -- 1) who can run a competent campaign, and 2) who can get enough support across the party spectrum.

by awgupta 2007-02-27 02:00PM | 0 recs
who's a fringe candidate?

In my precinct, Gephardt was not viable in 1988, the year he won the caucuses.

I don't think it's right that my vote will only go to the person I want if 15 percent of my neighbors agree with me.

Also, there are times when two candidates get the same number of delegates out of a precinct even when one candidate's group is larger. That's not fair either.

But you are right, the caucus system forces the winner to be popular in different types of communities, not just on a college campus.

by desmoinesdem 2007-02-27 02:37PM | 0 recs
Re: who's a fringe candidate?

Those are fair points.

I think the biggest weakness of the system as-is is that the number of participants per precinct can be pretty small. That creates its own distortion.

I'd like to see an opportunity for people to participate online in addition to on-site (you'd really just need to ensure that the precinct caucus site also had a computer available for the folks who didn't want to or couldn't go online).

It would reduce some of the barriers to participation, and also allow the 15% viability threshold to be applied statewide, not precinct by precinct. You could still award delegates precinct by precinct to make sure candidates campaigned across the state.

by awgupta 2007-02-27 04:26PM | 0 recs
Re: How the Iowa caucuses work (part 1), w/poll

I was a volunteer precinct captain in Adair County.
It went:  12 people so three makes you viable.
4 people in the Dining room for Kerry
4 people in the living room for Edwards
1 Dean guy went to the kitchen for cookies.
1 Kucinich guy went to the bathroom
2 undecides went to the hall.
Kucinich guy comes back from the bathroom and drags undecideds into the kitchen.  While eating cookies, he tries to persuade all of them to go with Kucinich and make him viable.  They aren't buying it.  We are getting tired.  Dean guy goes to Kerry.  One undecided goes to Kerry.  Undecided woman goes to Edwards but still looks lost.  Kucinich guy doesn't know what to do.  I have to admit that I tell him that Dennis wants him to go with Edwards.  He makes a phone call.  He decides to go with Edwards.  He ends up as the alternate delegate to the state convention and is really happy.  The precinct captain calls in
1 delegate for Kerry
1 delegate for Edwards.

Each candidate had written a letter.  I have to admit that Kerry's was a bit better than Edwards and it moved one undecided to him.    I'll have to dig them up and see why that was.

by Feral Cat 2007-02-27 02:41PM | 0 recs

Caucuses are rarely held in private homes anymore, at least in larger counties.  The party discourages it: 1) ADA accessibility issues 2) Fairness - if the host is backing a candidate caucusgoer-guests may feel inhibited.

by jdeeth 2007-02-27 04:52PM | 0 recs
Re: How the Iowa caucuses work

Great post and many thanks. I think I now have a good understanding of how the caususes work. Seems like they depend upon the candidates precinct organization. And, victory for a candidate's campaign is dependent upon the quality of their grassroots organization and their ability to get their people to the caucuses for the vote.

Am I on target with this interpretation?

by jfoster 2007-02-27 02:47PM | 0 recs
yes, you've got it

I'm going to do another diary sometime on precinct captains and all the ways they help candidates do well in the caucuses. Volunteers in the neighborhood are always helpful, but especially for caucuses when people need to make a significant time commitment, come out in the evening, and go vote in a place that's different from their usual polling place.

by desmoinesdem 2007-02-27 02:56PM | 0 recs
Caucuses as Reresentative Democracy

Why a caucus isn't one person one vote:

Delegates are elected to represent their precinct at the next level of convention.  The delegates are apportioned to each precinct on the basis of one person one vote (or in this case one Democrat one vote).  The difference is, VOTING is a lower committment activity than CAUCUSING.  Just as there are low turnout congressional districts with large populations of non-voters, there are low turnout caucus precincts filled with folks who may vote or the ticket in teh fall but don't go to caucus.  Typically these are places with lots of independents who vote for the top of the Dem ticket.

Thus the delegation elected at the caucuses represents November Democratic voters more than it represents January caucus goers.

Do with that what you will.

by jdeeth 2007-02-27 03:48PM | 0 recs
true, and also

there are some heavily Democratic precincts based on general-election voting that get relatively low turnout on caucus night. I had a friend in an inner-city Des Moines precinct that got to select 9 delegates--their turnout in January 2004 was smaller than the 175 eligible voters in our precinct who showed up to select 6 delegates.

by desmoinesdem 2007-02-27 06:06PM | 0 recs
Re: How the Iowa caucuses work (part 1), w/poll

I have to say that the caucuses are a lot of fun. I was a precinct captain for Dean in Blackhawk County that was half students at the University of Northern Iowa and half residents of the town. As precinct captain I had worked the phones for week identifying supporters and leaners and caucus night was my time to play "pit boss" rounding up the folks I had with me. After Gephardt missed the threshold there was a cult like wave of recruitment for the three delegates to try and get them to come to our side.

My favorite part of the caucus is the ability to give speeches in favor of your candidates. My precinct resolved pretty quickly (2 for Dean, 2 for Kerry, 1 for Edwards), but I got to sneak into the precinct next door (several precincts met on campus) and got to watch a precinct that was almost 100% students who were engaged in an almost British style debate between Kucinich and Dean with only 2 delegates up for grabs.

I guess to me the caucus feels like a great chance for citizens to come together and express opinions and be impacted. Perfect? Hardly, but an amazing experience to see.

by Greg The Wisconsin Democrat 2007-02-27 04:02PM | 0 recs
yes, they are a lot of fun

I met a lot of nice people while working my precinct, and there was a very upbeat energy in the room that night in January. It was fun to have so many Democrats out there advocating for their candidates.

by desmoinesdem 2007-02-27 06:34PM | 0 recs
Re: How the Iowa caucuses work

thanks for explaining the system.

i don't particularly like it, but i can see some of the advantages.  

what truly irritates me was pointed out above--IA and NH may be lovely states, but they should not be gatekeepers for the nomination of either party.  hell, NH isn't even representative of New England, let alone the rest of the U.S., and both of those states are pretty small.  

large states, western states, southern states should have some say in the nomination.  the calendar needs fixing.  

by chiefscribe 2007-02-27 05:31PM | 0 recs
not a good measure of electability

I'm less concerned that Iowa doesn't represent America -- although chiefscribe is right about this -- than with the fact that the caucus doesn't even represent Iowa. Iowa has been a swing state in the 1990s and 2000s, so someone who is a viable statewide candidate should be a viable national candidate. But the caucus measures intensity of support among a minority of hard core Democratic partisans, which has nothing to do with statewide or national viability. Yet because of Iowa's place in the primary calendar, the press and the candidates all interpret the caucus results as the first and therefore most important indicator of national electability. This is perverse; it's a recipe for ignoring moderates and independents and losing elections. Harkin did the Democrats a huge favor in 1992 by marginalizing the significance of the Iowa caucuses, and I'm sorry Vilsack has left the race and won't be able to play this role in 2008.

by berith 2007-02-28 05:45AM | 0 recs
Re: How the Iowa caucuses work (part 1), w/poll

Urf. The Iowa caucuses are a mess. It's an ominous sign that we haven't fixed this yet.

I did the Perfect Storm and I agree with the other comments: unmitigated disaster. Nothing is less persuasive to an inscrutable white middle aged Iowan than a pair of shivering Californiasicles freezing their tucheses off on their front porch in the middle of January.

My theory remains that Trippi called this tactic to build up an activist base that knows how screwed up it is and will eventually figure out some way to overthrow it. The turnout is always abysmal, too.  It's really, really broken.

by Dan Ancona 2007-02-27 07:07PM | 0 recs
Re: How the Iowa caucuses work (part 1), w/poll

The Perfect Storm, I think, was more about media than about persuasion.  Having random Iowans show up at your door is not really any more persuasive than random Californians.  I'm sure if Dean hadn't tanked on caucus night the Storm would have been credited as genius organizing.  Really though the flaws in the Iowa operation were a lot deeper than what one weekend of canvassing could fix, and all the field in the world couldn't save Dean from his communication problems.

by ItsDrewMiller 2007-02-27 09:05PM | 0 recs
Re: How the Iowa caucuses work (part 1), w/poll

Just as employer paid health insurance persists because we already have it and it has never faced a sunset review, the caucus system has outlived its usefulness.  Texas has the worst of both worlds: an irrelevant primary after other states have already determined the national outcome and an Iowa type precinct caucus system using prior election results to allocate delegates up the chain to State Senate District, State, and National Conventions. A 21st century primary/caucus system ought to consist of four regional primaries with a rotating order.  It would also include some system to identify what public policy issues and strategies are most important to party members.  

by bdungan 2007-02-27 09:18PM | 0 recs
Re: How the Iowa caucuses work (part 1), w/poll
And of course the system doesn't work because many people don't vote because they feel like it's a waste of time since the election statistically will almost never be determined by their single vote. Having more delegates in the surrounding areas may help encourage voting. My community was visit by a delegate who was very good and I'm sure rallied a lot of support.  Although I can't really say without having experienced this system, but it sounds like in practice this would sadly turn into a contest to see who can yell most coercively. I just hope Iowa caucuses will find a new system for next year.
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Ada Kenmore Parts
by timada 2008-03-19 04:27AM | 0 recs


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