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'Glitch' Won't Doom Iowa Caucuses

a hand holding a smartphone showing the words iowa democratic party
The app used to report results of the Iowa Caucuses.

John Havick By Friday, 07 February 2020 08:28 AM EST Current | Bio | Archive

The failure of the Iowa Caucus system to announce a definitive outcome within 60 minutes of the end of the process sparked a massive reaction: The far left media experienced a near emotional breakdown as the clock ticked on with no results. "The left" began questioning why Iowa should have such importance in the selection of a Democratic presidential candidate. What makes Iowa special?

As with many aspects of the political process, practices are adopted and then tradition takes over.  In the case of selecting delegates to attend the Democratic National Nominating Convention, before 1972, and during the early part of the 20th century, many states employed a system of party regulars and party members in conventions and meetings responsible for selecting the delegates.

Iowa had a caucus system for the bulk of the 20th century. It was not until 1972 when many states “reformed” to have elections rather than party insiders selecting delegates and thus, a say in the nomination of a party presidential candidate.  Iowa retained its caucus system, not changing to a presidential primary election.

The Iowa Democratic Caucus on January 24, 1972 was the first test of presidential candidates. It was wily, politically astute Iowa State Democratic Party Chairman, Cliff Larson, who urged the state to become the first caucus state.

Larson told this author he realized Iowa would become important for the selection of presidential candidates. It was understood no state could preempt New Hampshire as the first primary election state.  And so Iowa became the first caucus state, even ahead of New Hampshire for testing presidential candidates.

In 1972 the Iowa Caucus did not attract much attention, and in 1976 media showed the same neglect, except for New York Times writer Johnny Apple, who did the research and discovered Jimmy Carter would win Iowa, and could be propelled to win the nomination.

The caucus system in Iowa is not administered by paid professionals. Instead party precinct captains (in 1976 there were more than 2,000 and in 2020 about 1,600) manage the process. The process is decentralized and not easy to coordinate. It is handled by volunteers.

It is, in some respects, as close to democracy as one could come.  Anyone can become a party member and attend a caucus. And if some people choose not to attend, they may not have any views about politics, no knowledge of the issues, and see no need to attend.

James Madison would have been pleased that such people with no knowledge or interest would not participate.  Why is it a benefit to the nation for people who know nothing to participate in the decision? Of course, dragging uninformed citizens to the polls or to a caucus could assist the power-hungry gaining an advantage.

Now that Iowa has been discovered and the press and candidates converge on Iowa, what can be said on the merits of having Iowa be so important?

First, it is retail politics. Candidates meet the voters, eyeball to eyeball.  The candidates actually sit down and in small rooms, cafes, houses and talk to voters.  This is why Hillary Clinton didn’t roar out of Iowa with a big win in 2008 and 2016. Some voters saw right through her.

In contrast, Bernie Sanders, whatever limitations his policy may have, is genuine. He is selling what he believes.

The point is there is value in candidates having in-depth interaction with voters, and the Iowa Caucuses is one of the few states small enough to make such a process possible. A meaningful caucus system would not work well in a large population state.

Second, the Iowa population is a good citizenry to judge. Iowa has one of the highest literacy rates in the nation.  The people are reasonably intelligent, the state has a decent split between Democrats and Republicans, and many of the people think for themselves. 

In the midst of the Democrat backlash against the 2020 Iowa caucuses, the African American Democratic contingent questioned the lack of diversity and people of color in the Iowa population. 

It should be noted that when the predominantly white Iowa citizens gave Barack Obama a big boost, no African American complained about these independent-minded Iowans. 

There is little sign within Iowa of any large bias or bigotry, and this is the opposite of African American politics that often ignores the flaws and issues of a candidate and instead chooses on the basis of identity politics; a familiar pattern of voting in most American cities.  The Iowa voters are not much concerned with identity politics so they focus on the character, issues, and qualities of the candidates.

As for the 2020 slow processing by the Democrats of the Iowa Caucus results, several observations are in order.  The caucuses may have done thier job, although not one the Democrats liked to hear. 

Participation was low, suggesting the citizens were not excited by the Democratic candidates. No candidate was a clear winner. This, too, was predictable from the field of candidates; however, the field was somewhat narrowed to a handful of possibilities.

Lastly, the technical processing of the caucus results was performed by a company whose primary investor's CEO is the wife of one of the candidate's campaign managers. The Democrats seem unable to prevent the appearances of their conflicts of interest.

Most likely the glitches and criticisms of the Iowa Caucus will recede in memory and by 2024, the media and candidates will be back in the heartland for intense, close-up scrutiny.

John Havick has a Ph.D. in political science. He was a professor at Georgia Institute of Technology for many years, authored several books and a number of articles, including the widely cited "The Impact of the Internet on a Television-Based Society." His work has appeared in The New York Times, and his award winning book, "The Ghosts of NASCAR: The Harlan Boys and the First Daytona 500," has received popular and academic acclaim. Visit his website, For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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The failure of the Iowa Caucus system to announce a definitive outcome within 60 minutes of the end of the process sparked a massive reaction: The far left media experienced a near emotional breakdown as the clock ticked on with no results. "The left" began questioning why...
iowa, caucuses, democrats
Friday, 07 February 2020 08:28 AM
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