Iowa’s caucus draws a lot of attention to an otherwise quiet, largely agricultural state. The Iowa caucus can be difficult to explain quickly, but once you understand the process, it may be more simple than you think.
Iowa doesn’t necessarily represent a diverse cross-section of America. And although Iowa is one of the few states to hold a caucus, the other 49 states hold similar ballots, generally primary elections to choose the state party’s nominee for president of the United States, which it will present at the national party convention. Yet the votes cast by the residents who turn out for the Iowa caucus are so highly coveted that news agencies and political organizations take frequent polls to find out what the Iowans are thinking. Why is Iowa so important?
That test comes from real, everyday voters. The level of support a candidate receives in Iowa gives a reasonable indication of how they will perform with the rest of American voters. If middle-American Iowans support a candidate, then that candidate has a chance with the rest of the nation. The results from the Iowa caucus tell a candidate whether his or her platform is desirable. It is the first chance for a campaign to find out if its message is affecting voters — should the campaign stay the course or change tactics? And the Iowa caucus is so important that some candidates bow out of the race if they do poorly in Iowa.
A strong showing in Iowa also sends a message to the national party leaders. Each party seeks a strong contender for the White House, and a good response from Iowans helps cement a candidate’s chances to win the national nomination. Being first in the nation certainly is important. But Iowa wasn’t always first, and the votes cast by its residents in the caucus weren’t always so important.