- On February 3, Iowa Democrats will be the first in the country to cast their ballots for the Democratic presidential nominee.
- There are some unique features of the Iowa caucus that are important to understand to make sense of the process.
- Unlike a regular primary where voters cast a secret ballot, caucuses are communal and collaborative.
- Every Iowa precinct with a caucus holds not one but two rounds of preference expression, or alignments, meaning that caucusgoers’ second choices are incredibly important.
- In Iowa, a candidate must break 15% of the vote after the second alignment to win delegates at the congressional district or statewide level.
- Follow along with Insider’s live coverage of the Iowa caucuses here.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
On February 3, Iowa Democrats will gather across the state to caucus as the first state to express their choice for the Democratic presidential nominee and allocate delegates to the Democratic National Convention in July.
In traditional primaries, voters go into a voting booth and cast a ballot expressing their choice for the Democratic nominee. Delegates are then allocated proportionally based on the results of that vote.
Caucuses, however, are much more communal and collaborative. Every caucus-goer is assigned to a caucus location, like a high school gym, for example, in their voting precinct where they gather in groups, deliberate, and use preference cards to publicly express their choice for the Democratic nominee instead of casting a secret ballot.
There are some unique features of the Iowa caucus in particular that are important to understand to make sense of the process. Firstly, every Iowa precinct with a caucus holds not one but two rounds of preference expression, or alignments, meaning that caucusgoers’ second choices are more important, and there will be lots of strategizing behind who they choose to back.
In Iowa and most other early primary states, a candidate must break 15% of the vote in a given congressional district to win any delegates from that district at all.
Candidates must also clear 15% of the vote at the state level to earn any of Iowa’s five Party Leader and Elected Official, or PLEO, delegates and its nine at-large delegates, all of which are allocated based on the state popular vote.
This flowchart breaks down how the caucus process works step-by-step:
On caucus night, the Iowa Democratic Party will report three separate sets of results that may show different winners:
- The raw vote counts from the first alignment, or preference expression.
- The vote count from the second alignment, which determines what candidates pass the viability threshold to receive delegates in each precinct and congressional district.
- Each candidate’s vote share from the second alignment are converted into what are called “state delegate equivalents,” or the estimated number of delegates each candidate is allocated from the congressional district and statewide results of the caucuses.
Because the Democratic nomination is ultimately decided by who wins the most delegates and not the most votes, major election forecasters including the Associated Press and Decision Desk HQ (who Insider is partnering with for caucus night) will call the results based on the leader in state delegate equivalents.
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