Donald Trump. #FeeltheBern. Hillary Clinton’s emails. Unless you spend most of your waking life toiling away in a coal mine, you’ve heard some of these terms over the last six months or so (no offense to any coal miners who are reading this). And if you’ve dipped your toes into the cesspool that is your Twitter timeline in the last 24 hours, you may have heard about something called the Iowa Caucuses. You have a vague understanding that these “caucuses” relate to the primary elections. Beyond that? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
That’s okay. Anybody who claims to have more than a rudimentary understanding of the Iowa Caucus system—how they work, why they matter—is lying to try to impress someone. But why should liars who’ve maybe read a few articles in the New York Times have all the fun? You, too, have the right as an American to exaggerate your understanding of our democracy. That’s why we at FRANK151 have created this guide to faking your way through a conversation about the Iowa Caucus.
How does a caucus work?
For our purposes, all you really need to know that instead of walking into a voting booth, pulling a little curtain closed, and filling out a ballot, in Iowa people from various regions called precincts come together for a meeting to choose their candidates all community-style.
Republicans get together and hear speeches from campaign surrogates who are called “precinct captains.” Then they fill out ballots, which is sorta like regular voting, but a little bit more like in middle school when everyone had to come to the cafeteria and pick their student council president. Your ballot is secret and anonymous, but it’s out in the open enough that if you don’t vote for Becky Snyder, her friends will probably tell her, and then nobody will invite you to their birthday parties for the rest of the year. But I digress.
The important thing to remember is that the candidates electioneer at these things, which is something that’s usually prohibited in polling places. And instead of being open all day during set hours like a normal voting poll, it takes place at a set time, more like a meeting.
The Democrats have a similar thing going on. However, instead of voting on paper ballots, Iowa Democrats have to stand in a designated area for their candidate, and then wait to be counted. At this point a culling process takes place. If any candidate in the race fails to receive at least 15 percent of the voters present, that candidate is eliminated, and open season is declared on his or her supporters in an attempt to try and get them to throw in with a stronger campaign. This is done on a precinct-by-precinct basis. After supporters of the stronger campaigns have finished feasting on the corpses of the weaker ones, everyone lines up again and another count takes place. Sounds like a nightmare.
Who’s going to win?
On the Republican side, believe it or not, Donald Trump. Trump’s campaign was all but counted out of these primaries, and he’s spent the entire election cycle so far talking out the side of his neck, which is apparently something Americans rather enjoy. If he wins, we have ourselves to blame.
On the Democratic side many are declaring it a dead heat, but Hillary Clinton seems to be clinging to a slight lead. Bernie Sanders has made one hell of a showing, but his campaign, along with Donald Trump’s, actually, are both relying on record turnouts with lots of first-time caucus voters steamrolling in and upsetting the normal order of things. It could happen.
One thing is for sure, the caucuses are a voting apparatus not meant for the feint of heart. In normal voting you may have to stand in a long line to get inside of a booth, but after you punch your ballot you’re free to head home. The caucuses require everyone to show up and remain there until votes have been handed in or counted. This can take hours. And oh yeah, a massive snowstorm is heading straight for Iowa later this evening.
Who gives a shit?
Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, the media, and the least popular candidates on either side, to name a few. The Donald cares about the caucuses in part because he’s an egomaniac who can’t stand to lose. But it’s also because if he wins, it means that his campaign is no longer just a joke or a bad dream. He’ll have real delegates committed to his name at to GOP convention, and real people will have to begin preparing for the possibility of a Trump presidency. Hillary cares because she can’t afford to lose any more momentum. Her campaign faltered in key races during the 2008 primary cycle and never recovered. If she loses, Bernie gains even more momentum going into a New Hampshire primary that he is heavily favored to win, and suddenly the Democratic nomination is anyone’s to win. The media cares because Iowa is a line of demarcation; the real, actual start of the 2016 election cycle. Now everyone gets to stop pretending that their coverage of various polls and campaign rallies is anything other than idle speculation and or clickbait.
That bring us to the losers; The Martin O’Malleys and the Ben Carsons, and most importantly, Iowans. O’Malley, Carson and other last-place campaigns may very well drop out after tonight citing failure to launch and grim prospects in upcoming races. A few campaigns like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie will still almost certainly lose badly in Iowa, but hope to make stronger showings in New Hampshire. Iowans, despite ostensibly having the opportunity to exercise their democracy muscles tonight, lose out year after year on taking part in an actual primary election and the potential for significantly higher voter turnout by sticking to this primitive evening parlor game they call a caucus. It is they, most of all, who deserve our sympathy. Point that out over beers tonight with whoever you might be discussing contemporary politics with, and you will 100 percent for sure seem like you know what the fuck you’re talking about.