MAIA PETERSON & GEORGE SHI
A rural midwestern state that primarily produces corn should not command so much attention. But as the Democratic and Republican elections heat up, political pundits and journalists are redirecting their attention to the Iowa Caucus. On Feb. 1, Iowan citizens will gather at precincts and vote for Democratic and Republican candidates.
Caucuses have been used since the 1970s to elect presidential candidates. At caucuses, people gather at their precincts across the states to show their support for a candidate and cast their votes for whom they wish to support. Caucuses sometimes last hours and let everyone speak. Currently, 13 U.S. states and two U.S. territories employ caucuses. In contrast, most states use the primary system. They hold statewide elections where people vote for their preferred candidate.
On paper, caucuses would give everyone more of a voice, and ensure that people heard all of their options before picking a candidate. In practice, however, caucuses attract radical voters since moderate citizens don’t want to waste their time. That’s why a lot of states believe that caucuses can be costly, time-consuming, and beneficial to certain candidates. Furthermore, caucuses restrict entry to registered voters, so some see caucuses as undemocratic.
So why is the Iowa Caucus so important? In every election since 1972, it has been the first state to vote. As a result, it attracts media and can impact a candidate’s success in other states. In 1996, through 2008, the winners of the Iowa Caucus went on to win the nomination.
In the upcoming election, the same principle should hold true — at least in the Republican field. In a recent CNN poll, Donald Trump held 37 percent of the Iowan vote and 34 percent of the nation. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas had 26 percent in Iowa and 20 percent overall.
It’s harder to say if the same will hold true on the Democratic side. While former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton still leads Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont by about 18 percent nationally, Sanders has liquidated Clinton’s lead in Iowa and leads in New Hampshire, another early voting state. As a result, Clinton has reestablished a presence in Iowa.
Though a state with just three million residents, Iowa is crucial because it comes first. Momentum is key; as history has shown, candidates need to win early states to have staying power.