In early February of 2020, just about a month and a half before the pandemic upended life as we know it across the globe, the American political world also seemed to be caving in on itself. The extremely important Iowa Caucuses were having issues declaring a winner on the Democratic side. Considering the sole purpose of the caucus is to get a sense of who the country is leaning towards for the presidency, this was a major problem. The app that the DNC used to introduce virtual caucusing in Iowa failed to properly count votes or even be downloaded. Sometimes, preferred candidates didn’t even appear as an option.
Tom Perez, head of the DNC at the time, later blamed the concept of caucuses and seemed to slight the Iowa Democratic Party for its failures. Later, he backtracked and said “we all fell short.” NBC News stated, “Iowans…expressed frustration with the focus of the coverage in the reporting after the caucuses were over.”
The caucuses are a hallowed tradition here in The Hawkeye State and Iowans don’t want them to be taken away. However, as Tom Perez made clear in his words, not everyone is a fan of the caucuses. So what are some of the criticisms?
Iowa is not representative of the entire country
Quite possibly one of the most common complaints (especially from the DNC), Iowa is a mostly white, rural state with more pigs than people. With only about 3 million people and the largest population center being over just 200,000, it’s not representative of the whole nation.
The caucuses are not helpful for busy voters
The caucuses take place at one time on one day a year, usually on a weeknight. This makes it hard for people who work, have kids, or other weekly commitments to actually go and participate. This year, the caucus takes place on MLK Day (Monday, January 15th) which has drawn some ire due to perceived regressive policies created by mostly white Iowa Republicans. This can also drive lower voter turnout due to busy schedules of everyday Americans.
It’s a complicated process whereas primaries are more straightforward
A caucus is all about separating voters into groups over and over again - sometimes math is involved, thresholds are needed, apps crash, mistakes are made, and speeches are given. Primaries are simply walking in, casting a ballot, and walking out.
The caucuses are not a good indicator of who will be president
According to The Des Moines Register, since 1972, only three Iowa Caucus winners became president afterwards: Carter (even though he came in second to “uncommitted”), George W. Bush, and Obama.
In essence, the caucuses have their flaws that can be confusing, unhelpful, and lacking in total country representation. However, the caucuses still remain Iowa’s way to vote from here on out due to the social aspect, local pride, campaign visits, media attention, and a variety of other reasons. It may not be a perfect system, but it’s one that Iowans continue to hold dearly.