Iowa Caucuses offer a unique primary contest with changes in 2020

DES MOINES, Iowa - An important element in Monday's Iowa caucuses will be participants' second choice for president.

Political scientist Dennis Goldford of Drake University in Des Moines says the second preference comes into play in the second caucus vote. "By the nature of the caucus process in in terms computing state delegate equivalents, your second choice matters if your first choice isn't able to pass that threshold of support in the particulat precinct," said Goldford.

Candidates have to get 15 percent support in any precinct to be viable.

Supporters of non-viable candidates can transfer to one of the viable candidates or merge with another non-viable group in order to become viable.

Goldford says the best performing candidates in the caucuses really boils down to which ones meet expectations.

"Who will exceed expectations, do better than expectations" Goldford said. "Who will under-perform expectations. That amounts to determining caucus winners and losers."

County convention delegates are then awarded based on the results of the precinct caucuses (candidates that achieve 15 percent support in each precinct), with the 41 pledged delegates to the 2020 Democratic National Convention.

Between five and eight are awarded to each of the state's four congressional districts and another five are assigned to party leaders and elected officials, known as PLEO delegates, in addition to 9 at-large pledged delegates.

The state Democratic convention meets on June 13th to vote on the 9 pledged at-large and 5 PLEO delegates to send to the Democratic National Convention. The 41 pledged delegates Iowa sends to the convention are joined by 8 unpledged PLEO delegates.

The Iowa state party changed how they’re reporting caucus results this year. In the past, the party only released how many state delegate equivalents each candidate won. This year, it's also releasing raw vote totals, which could impact the strategy of individual caucus-goers.

There's also been talk in national Democratic circles, notably by former presidential candidate Julian Castro, about moving the Iowa caucus to a later date in the primary season. Some Democrats are frustrated that Iowa, which is 91 percent white, does not represent the diversity of the party's voters.

Professor Jay Newell of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism says candidates would lose a lot of conveniences if the first primary was moved to another state. "The background behind Iowa as the first in the nation was that it's a rural state where it's easy and inexpensive to buy media," said Newell. "It's easy to get around and visit different places."

He thinks moving the caucuses to a later date would be disruptive to the entire primary process. "Were the parties to change the system for the next round in 2024, you would certainly see it's a different dynamic."

The state Democratic Party is staging caucuses in satellite locations outside the state for the first time this year. There'll be locations in the southern United States, from Florida to Arizona, to accommodate residents who spend the winter months in those areas. There'll also be international caucuses this year.

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