About the Caucuses




150,000 or bust

By Chris Larimer, Associate Professor, University of Northern Iowa

To say the results on Monday night will hinge on turnout is to state the obvious.  But a closer look at the numbers reveals just how important overall turnout will be to the results, particularly the campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Using data maintained by George Washington University and the Iowa Secretary of State’s website, and as reported by Dennis Goldford of Drake University, recent turnout at the caucuses is not particularly impressive.

For the Democrats, the average turnout the last three competitive caucuses (2000, 2004, and 2008) was 141,654, or an average of 24.6 percent of active registered Democrats in the state.  But there is considerable variation here.  In 2000, 61,000 Democrats (or 11 percent) caucused in the race between Al Gore and Bill Bradley, while in 2008 nearly 240,000 (or 40 percent) Democrats turned out to caucus.

For the Republicans, for the last three competitive caucuses (2000, 2008, and 2012), there was less variation.  Turnout averaged approximately 110,000 Republicans, for an average turnout rate of 18.5 percent, ranging from 15 percent in 2000 to 20 percent in 2012.

This raises two questions: Can Democrats [...]

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The caucuses: a soldier’s view

By Joe Weeg

The retired Navy captain sat across the table at Smokey Row Coffee. Totally composed. Taking my measure is my guess.

I start to feel a little warm under her scrutiny.

Let’s see — unwavering eye contact, upright posture, an open smile. Check, check, and check. Naval Captain Megan Klee, retired, is on a campaign.

“I decided I wanted to actually see all the presidential candidates in person. It is different to see them in person where you get more than a sound bite.”




Klee is making the rounds from her home base in Des Moines. She and her husband, Allan Kniep, make forays out to Waukee, or Urbandale, or Oskaloosa to hear and talk to the candidates. But Klee is not a passive observer of these events.


“To see the candidates in person isn’t as much as I’d hoped it would [...]

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Making the Caucus Myth a Reality

By Sarah Fulton

Sarah Fulton is a senior Journalism and History double major at Drake University. She is a research assistant for David Redlawsk, Harkin Institute Mabry Fellow and Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick and Director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling. This post synthesizes her reactions following the caucus campaigns this past fall semester.

Every four years since 1972, in the early part of the year, the nation has focused its attention on the small state of Iowa. As the first in the nation nominating event the Iowa caucuses hold a near mythic reputation. They are touted as the first step in winning a presidential nomination. Tradition has it that there are only three tickets out of Iowa and if presidential hopefuls want to be seen as a contender they had better grab one.  Fail in Iowa and the race is over.

This level of mythos raises some questions. Why does this small, unrepresentative state hold such power? There are 49 other states. According to the U.S. Census Bureau 29 of them have larger populations. New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina also vote early, and while New Hampshire has some history, [...]

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Books and Bernie

By Joe Weeg, a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office for the last 31 years, now retired and writing a weekly column for Cityview called Joe’s Neighborhood.

Hushed voices float up the few stairs to the cafe where large windows look out onto the wintry parking lot and the newly built Chic-fil-A. Concrete and January. The two seem to belong together. The acrid smell of coffee tickles the back of your throat as you wait in line. Row after row of books and magazines and calendars and games are spread out below. The books are the draw. And the crowd is affected by their presence. Perhaps Sister Mary Marla is watching to make sure everyone is behaving. Perhaps not. Although everyone keeps their voices hushed on the off chance.

Nathan Luethje works the cafe inside Barnes and Nobles on University Avenue in West Des Moines. Smiling slowly. Laughing softly. Talking gently. Every customer is greeted. Everyone is chatted up. Everyone is welcomIMG_1347e. He moves from food to coffee to the cash register, keeping a steady rhythm. A low hum of efficiency.

“Luethje. [...]

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Iowa GOP caucus ignores warnings of the founding fathers

For a critical view of the Iowa caucuses, see this article by Herb Strentz, who has posted to About the Caucuses in the past.  It was published originally in Des Moines City View.
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Delegates: They’re What It’s Really About!

By David Redlawsk, Harkin Institute Mabry Fellow

Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick and Director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling


Since 1972 for the Democrats, and this year for the Republicans, the Iowa Precinct Caucuses have not really been about voting for presidential candidates.

Well they have (and are) but the real goal is to win delegates (ultimately) to the respective national conventions. Precinct Caucuses do NOT elect delegates to the national convention, but they do elect them to the county convention, and the process continues from there through district and state conventions, then to the national convention.

The stakes then, are not just the media bump that generally comes from exceeding expectations on caucus night, but also ultimately claiming a share of the delegates Iowa will elect to the national conventions. No one gets nominated to be their party’s standard-bearer without having 50%+1 of all the delegates to the national convention. To be sure, Iowa’s share of those delegates is quite small (see here [GOP | Democrats] for details on every state’s delegate counts) but at least for the Republicans, every delegate may well count given the fractured nature of the field.

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Iowa Caucus Goers are late deciders: Still Plenty of Room for Change

By David Redlawsk, Harkin Institute Mabry Fellow

Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick and Director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling

It’s just over 60 days to the Iowa Caucuses. Polling continues to show Donald Trump on top of the GOP pack here in the Hawkeye State. But, as I write this, two recent polls show something changing under the Trump umbrella. Ben Carson, who had been running a close second to Trump appears to be falling; perhaps his time is over. Taking his place is Ted Cruz, who has doubled his support to just over 20%, while Carson has fallen below that mark.

Trump himself remains in the 25%-30% range, where he has been stuck for months. Nothing seems to change for Trump in Iowa; all the action is in second and third.

Meanwhile the media remains obsessed about whether Trump’s support is real, or whether it will fade as voters get “serious.” Nate Silver just suggested the media needs to “stop freaking out” over Trump. He argues, as I have since at least August in Twitter comments and on the news app Sidewire, that Trump’s numbers remain stagnant at about a [...]

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From the Eye of an Iowan: The Personal Touch of the 2016 Iowa Caucuses

by Ben Verhasselt

 Ben Verhasselt is a senior Politics and Rhetoric, Media, and Social Change double major at Drake University.  He is a research assistant for Prof. David Redlawsk this fall.


While politicos across America eagerly await the next polling numbers and discuss the ups and downs of debate strategies, the real spectacle of the Iowa caucuses is unfolding on the ground in this small Midwestern state.  It’s unfolding in the lap of an Iowa mother bouncing her kid on one knee while Mike Huckabee calms her fears about over regulation of homeschooling.  It’s unfolding as hundreds of students wait for a chance to snap a ‘Selfie’ with Rand Paul, to brag to friends back home.  It’s unfolding as a parent lovingly nudges her trembling daughter towards the podium at an elementary school auditorium to ask Hillary Clinton a question about gender equality.  It’s unfolding in a room full of animated Democrats as they are serenaded by the hopelessly charming Martin O’Malley while a union teacher’s son plays with Legos in the back of the room to the sound of the music.

The real Iowa caucuses are about more than a candidate reading what’s on the teleprompter and American [...]

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Donald Trump: Superman with a Super Will

By David Redlawsk, Harkin Institute Mabry Fellow

Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick and Director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling

I think I get it now. I mean, I got it intellectually before. People are angry, frustrated, looking for something. But after attending a Donald Trump event in Burlington recently, I get it emotionally. At least I can see what the feeling of Trump means to the true-believer Trumpites.

Trump is about a future that is much better than today and more importantly about the force of will to make it so. Most candidates have some future-looking aspect to their campaign which they claim they will pursue if elected. But Trump really seems different, so bombastic in his praise of himself and his abilities that you almost have to believe it could be true.

The rally is being held in Burlington, Iowa’s Memorial Auditorium, which hulks along the Mississippi River. The Auditorium was opened nearly 80 years ago, and according to its website was built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the depression-era agency that was responsible for massive public works projects around the country. Inside, the space is perfect for this kind of [...]

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What’s the Difference Between Liberals and Conservatives? The Economic Dimension

By Dennis J. Goldford, Harkin Institute Flansburg Fellow

Professor of Political Science, Drake University

Besides the moral dimension of liberalism and conservatism in America, there is an economic dimension. We ordinarily distinguish them by speaking of economic or market liberalism and economic or market conservatism. What confuses the matter is the fact that economic or market conservatism is actually a form of liberalism, a form that is typically called 19th-century or Manchester liberalism. See, for example, the way conservative economist Milton Friedman characterizes his views in his book Capitalism and Freedom as liberalism in its 19th-century sense. Also see “conservative” economist F. A. Hayek’s essay, “Why I Am Not a Conservative.”

Lost in the polemics of difference is the fact that in their economic dimension American liberalism and American conservatism share a fundamental commitment to the idea of market society, the central principle of which is this: under conditions of fair competition and equality of opportunity, inequalities of outcomes are traceable to differences of individual effort and achievement and are therefore just.

Given that principle, then, for economic conservatives, the free market, left to itself, will operate optimally indefinitely. Because the chief danger to and source of [...]

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