This article was originally published in the Viet Tide on Jan. 29, 2016. It was written by Ness White and has since been updated, edited accordingly.
Readers paying attention to mainstream media elections coverage might be aware that the Iowa Caucuses are happening today. However, they might not be aware of how the caucuses can affect the outcome of the presidential election.
According to various media outlets reporting on the caucuses, in 1972 the Democratic Party took advantage of an Iowan tradition of meeting during the winter to handle politics and held their caucuses there in January that year. The result? A little-known candidate before the caucuses -- former U.S. Sen. George McGovern -- gained recognition and eventually received the Democratic presidential nomination. The same strategy was used four years later -- with Republicans also noticing the effects and implementing the strategy. Again, another little-known Democratic candidate -- Jimmy Carter -- gained his party’s nomination and would later be elected president.
So what exactly happens during the Iowa Caucuses?
Iowa’s Democratic and Republican parties hold their caucuses at the same time, with this year’s taking place today, Monday, Feb. 1, at 8 p.m. EST. The caucuses are being held at more than 1,000 meeting sites -- varying from people’s homes to schools, town halls and other venues -- across the state.
The Iowa caucus process is different for Democrats and Republicans, and considered more complicated for Democrats. While Republicans basically cast their vote by ballot for the presidential candidates they feel should be in the lead and win the caucuses, the Democratic process involves caucus-goers breaking up into groups based on their desired candidate, then voting.
Although the winners of the caucuses are not automatically guaranteed the presidency, they can gain much-welcomed media attention and campaign donations -- which can help increase their chances of winning the presidency, or at least their party’s nomination.
But there’s more to the Iowa Caucuses -- and caucuses in various states leading up to the presidential nomination. This is arguably the most important aspect of the caucuses and also the most underreported.
While each state and state political party has different methods for their caucus process, the outcome is similar. Based on the caucus voting results, delegates are chosen to represent voters at their party’s local, then state and ultimately national conventions. These delegates have vowed to voters that they would support a particular candidate throughout the convention process. However, depending on the state, this promise is not binding.
At the national convention, the delegates who have made it through all of the various conventions will vote on their party’s nominee. The Democratic and Republican nominees will be the main two options for Americans to choose from during the November elections.
Impacts on November’s decision?
While mainstream media outlets seem to be betting on Democratic candidate and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton to be the party’s frontrunner, her and independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont have been fluctuating in the Iowa polls. Although Clinton is in the lead today, a previous CNN/ORC poll has shown that Iowa voters support the Sen. Sanders on the issues of the economy and health care, while putting their weight behind Clinton on foreign policy. The senator is also polling higher than Clinton in New Hampshire, where primary debates will be held eight days after the Iowa Caucuses.
On the Republican side, business mogul Donald Trump holds a lead over U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Trump, who has been a frontrunner nationwide, has garnered Iowa Republicans’ support on the issues of the economy, immigration and foreign policy, though falls behind Sen. Cruz with support for social issues -- such as abortion and same-sex marriage.
Stay tuned for more coverage on how the candidates placed at the Iowa Caucuses.