Your guide to the Iowa caucus

They select presidential candidates a bit differently in the Hawkeye state. Here’s a breakdown of how the first state will determine who it supports in the November election.


Nikolas Liepins

Senator Bernie Sanders, shown here addressing a sea of his supporters at Williams Arena in Minneapolis during his 2020 presidential campaign rally on Nov. 3, is gaining support heading into tonight’s Iowa Caucus, according to The New York Times. Photo by Nikolas Liepins.

Anna McClellan, staff reporter

Tonight at 7 p.m., the Iowa caucuses open and launch the 2020 primary election season.

For those who don’t know how caucuses work, here’s a little run down: 

  • Iowa is split into 1679 precincts that will meet to “caucus.”
  • They are usually held at a school or other public building. 
  • Anyone who is 18 by the date of the presidential election, which is November third 2020, and registered as either Democrat or Republican can participate. 

For Democrats, there is a select location where the caucus members meet.

  • Imagine a room, and within that room, there are different sections for each candidate. The caucus members will move around the room to where their support lies, and at most locations, must get support from at least 15 percent of attendees to be viable.
  •  If 15 percent is met by the group, they fill out a Presidential Preference Card, sign it and turn it in. Those people can leave if done, or can stay around and watch the rest, but cannot vote again. 
  • If 15 percent is not met by a candidate, those supporters must move to select a different candidate, whether they had gotten 15 percent or not. 
  • After the groups are realigned, the group size will be counted again. This is the final count for the caucus. 
  • After the second count, delegates are awarded to the candidates, depending on how many supporters each candidate had. The candidate with the most delegates wins.
Nikolas Liepins
President Donald Trump, shown here addressing the crowd at Target Center in Minneapolis for his 2020 presidential campaign rally on October 10, 2019, is expected to win the Iowa Caucus without any significant challenger within his party. Photo by Nikolas Liepins.

For Republicans, things are a little bit different. 

  • Caucus participants cast their votes individually, not moving around in a room. 
  • After the votes are counted, the chair of the caucus announces the number of delegates being given to each candidate. 
  • The delegates are nominated based on the candidates receiving the most votes. 
  • Delegates are then selected, and confirmed by participants. 

Ten states and three U.S. territories hold caucuses. The Iowa Caucus is given the most attention by far, and in the past, the Democrat who wins the Caucus in Iowa usually wins the nomination later in the spring. 

Virtually everywhere else, however, there are primary elections where every registered voter will go and vote for the candidate they support, and delegates are then decided on from there. 

Grant Tetmeyer
Joe Biden is the front-runner among Democrats heading into tonight’s Iowa Caucus. Photo by Grant Tetmeyer.

In Texas, the primary election will be held March 3, the same as 12 other states. Voters will have the opportunity to either vote for one of 11 democrats, or one of three republicans. So far, Joe Biden is leading the polls with a 27 percent polling average nationally, just ahead of Bernie Sanders (24 percent) as well as Elizabeth Warren (14 percent). Other candidates, such and Mike Bloomberg and Pete Buttigieg, are polling at less than ten percent. 

According to the New York Times, Bernie Sanders has been gaining ground in recent weeks and is close to catching Joe Biden, threatening his position for victory in the primary election.

— information for this synopsis came from The New York Times, NBC News, NCSL.ORG, USA.GOV and USA Today.