Why the Iowa Caucuses Matter

Professor Kusko smiles in the green rocking chairs in front of main building

[sidebar title=”How to Register to Vote” align=”left” background=”on” border=”all” shadow=”on”]
Students must register by Feb. 19 in order to vote in the presidential primaries on March 15. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Student looking to register to vote may do so online here.
  • For paper versions students may visit Kusko in her office on campus in Flowe 203. She is willing to provide the forms and help students fill out. She can also be reached by email at ekusko@peace.edu.
  • Students who are registered to vote in another state or county can go online to their county’s board of election site, fill out a form and send it in. The board of elections will send an absentee ballot to that student with a due date. Students will need to check when the primary for their state is held, so that they request the absentee ballot before the deadline.

The first electoral event of the primary season, the Iowa Caucuses to be held Monday, Feb. 1, will likely be very important in determining who the presidential nominees will be.
Unlike in most other primaries, where people simply vote for their favorite nominee, the caucuses are public dialogues between the voters in smaller groups. After they discuss, they make their choice and then send that information directly to the Iowa party headquarters.
The model is meant to give more power the people allowing for a more grassroots style of democracy.
“The caucus is an informal gathering, that is actually very formal and official, that the party hosts,” says William Peace University Political Science Professor and Department Chair, Dr. Elizabeth Kusko. “The most famous of these is the Iowa Caucus…it’s a strange thing.”
The Iowa Caucus matters in North Carolina because it will set the tone for the rest of the primary season.  
“The Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire primary set the stage for everything,” says Kusko. “If you win Iowa, it’s momentum, you’re sprinting off the block.”
If a candidate wins the Iowa Caucus, it gives them an edge going into the primary, which includes major media coverage, as well as a more energized voter base.
Other candidates may drop out after a poor performance, so North Carolina voters may see a much smaller ballot by the time we vote in March.
In 2012, Michele Bachmann dropped out of the race and Mike Huckabee later withdrew from the race after the caucuses. The performance in Iowa of all the presidential hopefuls will certainly determine what the race will look like in North Carolina both in tone and size of field.
“After Iowa, and definitely after New Hampshire…those mid-range Republican candidates…if they don’t do as well as what they think they’re gonna do, we’ll definitely see some drop outs,” says Kusko.
There are two different caucus procedures for each party. The Republicans begin with a straw poll, done on paper. Then anyone in attendance in allowed to speak on behalf of any of the candidates. After that, a more formal ballot is passed around, and a person present is asked to count them, fill out a form with the results, and send it to the party.
The Democrats have more complex rules about delegate representation at the caucus level. They open with a letter from elected officials and then ask for donations for local and state races. At least 30 minutes after the caucus opens, the process starts and from there runs very similarly, with a few small procedural differences.
Unlike some primaries, only voters who are registered for either party may participate. Undecided voters, who are registered but not affiliated with a party, may not caucus.
Historically the caucus is a hit or miss indication of who the nominee will be. For example, in 2012 Rick Santorum won the republican caucus, but Mitt Romney became the nominee. However, in 2008 Barack Obama won, and became the nominee and eventual winner of the presidential race.
“Every candidate who has won both Iowa and New Hampshire, 80% of the time, they end up being the nominee,” says Kusko. “But if you lose Iowa…for example Ted Cruz, it seems like is thinking if I don’t do well in Iowa, I might as well concede, if I don’t win Iowa this campaign is basically over…yet, Iowa is increasingly not representative of the whole national landscape.
Current polling numbers, according to CNN, are as follows: 46% of those polled supported Sanders, and 44% supported Clinton. The Republican polls are more diluted, as there are more candidates gaining traction, as opposed to the tight democratic race.  Trump is currently polling at 31% and Cruz is polling at 26%.
The North Carolina primary election will be held on March 15. More more information on how to register, click here.
“The primaries are much more directly connected to the people…we have much more of a say,” says Kusko, who is willing to help students register. “You guys have to go vote. You can make a difference!”  

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