2008 IOWA CAUCUS RESOURCE GUIDE
Welcome to Iowa’s First in the Nation Presidential Caucus…
Every four years, presidential candidates visit Iowa to meet with the state’s First in the Nation caucus-goers. Iowa has a rich political tradition with its caucus process. The state’s citizens have gathered to discuss political issues and candidates in the caucus format since the early 1800s.
We are proud to serve as the first step in the winnowing process for our nation’s presidential candidates. Iowans are well educated in national issues and expect candidates to come to Iowa and address these issues.
Neighborly – The Iowa caucuses are democracy in action, often compared to town meetings in their political informality. The word caucus is a North American Indian word, thought to be of Algonquin origin, meaning a gathering of the ruling tribal chiefs. The modern definition describes caucuses as a process of political party members gathering to make policy decisions to select candidates.
History – Caucuses are not new to Iowa. Some form of caucus has existed since the early 1800s, even before Iowa became a state in 1846. The shapers of the Iowa constitution chose caucuses rather than a primary to nominate candidates, preferring the grassroots approach. Since that time, caucuses have been held in Iowa on a regular basis, normally every two years.
How They Work – Caucuses start in Iowa at 7:00 p.m. Because it is already 8:00 p.m. on the East Coast, party leaders have opted to conduct the presidential preference polling early in the caucuses to accommodate the national radio and television networks who are trying to get results on the air during primetime. On caucus night, Iowans gather by party preference in designated schools, public buildings, or often even in private homes to elect delegates to the 99 county conventions. Presidential preference selection on the Republican side is done with a straw vote of those attending the caucuses. Democratic caucus-goers express their presidential preference through a show of hands, a sign-in sheet or by dividing themselves into groups according to candidates. A “third-party” may hold a convention to nominate one candidate for president and one for vice-president as well. The results of this caucus activity on both the Republican and Democratic sides are not binding on the elected delegates, but the delegates usually feel obligated to follow the wishes expressed by the caucus-goers. Thus the initial caucus results provide a good barometer of the composition of Iowa’s national delegation, keeping in mind the effect that candidates’ withdrawals can have right up to convention voting time.