The infamous—and historically polarizing—Iowa Democratic presidential caucuses are known for their ability to grant immense amounts of political momentum to party nominees who poll well in the Midwest state. As a result of the caucus in 2008, then-nominee Barack Obama received a significant surge in support heading into the New Hampshire Democratic Primary, which occurred a mere five days after.
This year, with the same primary less than a week away, ideologically diverse Democrats each aimed to attract the same attention and support by performing well in the Midwestern state’s historic caucuses Monday night. Instead, the first decisive event of the 2020 Democratic nomination process continues to be a source of political uncertainty for all candidates. As of publication, no winner has been declared in Iowa.
Nominees, their supporters, and the American population were left without answers until Tuesday afternoon, when the first wave of results that accounted for 62% of precincts were reported. The initial polling had Buttigieg leading Sanders by a narrow margin, with Warren in third and Biden in a distant fourth.
The Iowa Democratic Party released its latest round of results early Thursday morning, which accounted for 97% of precincts reporting. Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana and Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) appear to be virtually tied, with Buttigieg leading by a mere .1%. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) trails Sanders by slightly under 8%, while former Vice President and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) fall in the bottom two.
Despite official results not trickling in until midday Tuesday, candidates wasted no time in not only shifting their focus to New Hampshire, but preemptively declaring themselves the victors of Iowa. Buttigieg tweeted late Monday night that he was by “all indications...going on to New Hampshire victorious.” Sanders addressed his Granite State supporters Tuesday evening after early returns showed him winning the popular vote in Iowa.
Sanders declared victory in Iowa early Thursday afternoon, despite results still showing that Buttigieg held a minute lead over Sanders in state delegate equivalents. Buttigieg had previously held a much larger lead that virtually evaporated overnight as more results trickled in.
Additionally, The New York Times published an extensive report on Thursday morning that highlighted the many inconsistencies with the released results from Iowa. The report cited problems with delegate allocations and alignment counts. According to The Times, the mistakes do not appear to be intentional, but they do raise questions about if there “will ever be a precise accounting” of the will of Iowans on Monday night.
Biden, who was declared an early frontrunner of the campaign when he first announced his bid, struggled to perform in what is typically seen as a relatively moderate state. Running on the platform of democratic moderatism, Biden has lost favor in the polls since his initial bid and his defeat in Iowa is seen to many an indication of the new direction of the Democratic Party.
In what was meant to begin a momentous run to defeat President Donald Trump, Iowa—and its Democratic Party—fell flat on its face. On Tuesday night, Democratic Party Chairman Tom Perez issued a statement blaming the app that Iowa had hoped to use to report results of the caucuses.
"It is clear that the app in question did not function adequately," Perez said in the statement. "It will not be used in Nevada or anywhere else during the primary election process. The technology vendor must provide absolute transparent accounting of what went wrong," he added.
Iowa, along with Nevada, North Dakota, American Samoa, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and Wyoming are the only other states or territories that are persistent in their tradition of caucusing. Recently, Maine, Hawaii, and Kansas opted out of caucuses in favor of the more widespread government-run primary system.
The multi-day chaos in Iowa has resulted in voracious calls to reevaluate the state’s role in the nomination process. For the last forty years, Iowa has been the “First in the Nation”—a role coveted by not only runner-up New Hampshire, but nearly every other state in the union. Furthermore, many Democratic leaders contend that Iowa is not demographically representative of the party.
Caucuses, which differ from traditional presidential primaries in that local members of a political party register their preference among candidates running for office in a public setting as opposed to voting in private, have long been the subject of controversy in American politics. Many think that due to the public nature of caucuses, caucus-goers could potentially face a situation in which they cannot reveal their true political preference due to external pressures.
Additionally, caucusing is a day-long event, making it an exclusive one. To attend a caucus, you must have the privilege to attend a caucus. Perhaps if election days, primary days, or caucus days were to become national holidays, the results of the United States’ democratic process would look more representative of the will of the people.
Caucus systems “limit and restrict opportunities for people to vote,” Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-IL) told The Times. “As I watched that on television last night, I thought to myself, ‘How many folks at the end of a workday, picking kids up from day care are likely to show up at the caucus? Not many.’”