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5 key questions going into Iowa Caucuses

Winning Iowa doesn’t guarantee a nomination, but faring poorly could mean doom

After months of polling, debates and campaigning, the first tangible result toward determining the Democratic nominee for president will take place Monday.

The Iowa Caucuses will kick off what will be a busy two months of primaries, which will likely establish the Democratic candidate who will oppose President Donald Trump in November’s general election.

Here are five key questions going into the Iowa Caucuses.

To see the list of remaining Democratic candidates and where they stand on issues, click here.


How is a caucus different than a primary?

A caucus is a polling place where registered voters gather, have discussions and vote on the candidates openly. There are 1,678 precincts in Iowa, so voters gather at a designated church, school, or other type of building, to hold their caucus and vote not only on which presidential candidates they prefer to be nominated, but also what delegates are selected to conventions and party committees.

Voters indicate their support for a particular candidate by standing in a designated area of the caucus site. Candidates who get at least 15% of votes are then deemed “viable,” which means those who voted for them turn in their cards and leave.

There’s a second round of voting for those who backed “nonviable” candidates, where supporters can either stick with their original vote, switch their vote to another candidate until he or she reaches 15% and becomes viable, or try and convince others in the room to vote for their candidate.

Representatives of each candidate are often in the building to try and sway voters to their side.

Eventually, the voting is closed and the viable candidates will be allocated a number of delegates based on their performance.

The number of delegates earned eventually translates into the number of delegates a candidate gets at national conventions.

While there’s no official winner declared, the candidate with the most delegates earned has historically been considered the winner and been the state’s nominee.

It’s a different process than a primary, which is a statewide system in which voters turn in secret ballots of their preferred candidates.

Why is Iowa first?

Ever since 1972, Iowa has been the first to vote on preferred candidates.

Iowa is first mainly because it has a more complex and lengthier nomination process than other states, and thus, it wants to start earlier. Iowa has precinct caucuses and conventions at the county, district and state levels.

Iowa has been first ever since the Democratic Party overhauled its election process after the 1968 Democratic Convention to emphasize more input from voters and to avoid manipulation by party members.

The 1968 nominee turned out to be Hubert Humphrey, who was nominated despite not winning a single primary.

Why is it so important to the candidates?

Candidates don’t win the nomination for president by winning Iowa, and they don’t often end up in the White House, either. Only Jimmy Carter in 1976, George W. Bush in 2000 and Barack Obama in 2008 have won the presidency by being declared the winner in Iowa.

However, the Iowa Caucus is an important tone-setter for ensuing primaries in other states -- and it definitely weeds out candidates further.

When a candidate does poorly in Iowa, a dropping-out announcement usually follows in the days that follow.

Who is the favorite?

The favorite going in appears to be former vice president Joe Biden, according to a Monmouth University poll released Wednesday.

Biden polled at 23%, although Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders wasn’t far behind at 21%.

Pete Buttigieg, former Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was next at 16%, while Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was next at 15%.

What is next after Iowa?

All attention will turn to New Hampshire, where seven Democratic candidates will have a debate Friday four days before the primary there on Feb. 11.

Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, billionaire activist Tom Steyer and entrepreneur Andrew Yang have reached qualifying thresholds and will appear on stage for the debate.


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