The Iowa Caucus Debacle

On Tuesday, February 3rd, Iowa held the first primary of the 2020 presidential election. Regent University Undergraduate Student Government partnered with Robertson School of Government and Regent’s government honor society, Pi Sigma Alpha, to host a watch party. The event started at 7:45 p.m. and went until around 10 p.m. Dr. Knolte from the Robertson School of Government and Dr. Higgins from the College of Arts and Sciences commented on the caucus and explained how results might affect the democratic primary race. The event was attended by around 30 Regent students and faculty.

Iowa is one of the few states that hold a caucus instead of a typical primary. Unlike most other state primaries where voters cast their votes in secret, a caucus is a large public gathering where people cast their votes openly. An interesting component of the Iowa caucus is the viability threshold. The threshold is 15% of voters in attendance. What this means is that in order for a candidate to receive delegates 15% of the voters who attend a local caucus must join that candidate’s group. If the candidate does reach the viability threshold, then their supporters are allowed to realign themselves with a different candidate group. 

This year’s Iowa caucus brought with it new rules and technologies. First off, supporters were only allowed to realign with a new candidate twice if their candidate did not reach viability. Secondly, the Democratic national committee implemented a new way for caucuses to submit their official vote tallies through an app. Usually, results from the caucus start to roll in by 9 p.m. The first results reported came from the Republican Party in which incumbent President Donald Trump won 39 of the 40 delegates and Bill Walsh won 1. Reports soon begin to come in that Democratic results were delayed due to errors with the new app and busy phone lines. Results did not start to come in until Tuesday which showed Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders leading. According to a New York Times, more than 100 precincts reported inconsistent results. Final caucus results were delayed all the way until Friday. Buttigieg won the most delegates with 13; Sanders won 12 delegates; Elizabeth Warren won 8 delegates; Joe Biden won 6 delegates; Amy Klobuchar won 1 delegate.

In the wake of the dramatic Democratic Iowa Caucus, there have been some calls for recanvasing to ensure that all the votes were properly recorded and reported. The Democratic National Committee has stated that this is unlikely to happen. The biggest result of the Iowa Caucus is that no candidate received a large bump in support or a wave of positive media coverage, as many candidates had hoped. The candidate who will be hurt the most by the caucus debacle is Mayor Buttigieg who would have received a large media bump from the win in Iowa. Consistent Democratic frontrunner Biden performed below many expectations. While Sanders and Buttigieg have energized campaigns lead by young progressives, Biden’s position as frontrunner has felt like the default option. Many Democrats lack enthusiasm for Biden’s campaign but support him over a more progressive option because they think that he has the highest chance of defeating President Trump in the general election.

The 2020 candidate who came away with the largest victory was President Donald Trump. He also brought attention to the failures of the caucus and suggested they put into question the Democrats’ ability to run the government. While the technical difficulties in the caucus do not reflect the candidates themselves, they did lessen the impact the results had on their party. The 2020 Candidates will now turn their attention toward New Hampshire, where the primary will be held on Tuesday, February 11th.