Share all sharing options for: how the Iowa caucus outcomes will actually work — and why 2020’s can be much more confusing than ever before


Caucus attendees look at on throughout a autonomous Party caucus in ~ Jackson Township Fire station on February 1, 2016, in Keokuk, Iowa. Michael B. Thomas/AFP via Getty pictures
The political civilization is waiting v bated breath to check out who will win the Iowa autonomous caucuses. However there’s an additional surprisingly murky question: exactly how will we also decide that wins?

The difficulty is that there will be three outcomes coming in after Iowa voter gather on the night of Monday, February 3.

One will certainly be because that something dubbed “state delegate equivalents” — this is the number previously supplied to recognize the winner that the Iowa democratic caucuses, something okay explain an ext in a bit. However the Iowa autonomous Party will also be tallying and also reporting two other sets of numbers: how plenty of actual civilization voted because that each candidate in a offered caucus — first an early stage tally, climate a final tally taken after ~ lower-performing candidates room eliminated.

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At the very least, this could be confusing. What if, for example, Sen. Bernie Sanders wins an ext votes yet former Vice president Joe Biden wins more state delegate equivalents? It can make determining who “won” rather difficult.


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Iowa democratic caucuses 2020: Live outcomes

In brief, the numbers that Iowa Democrats will certainly report top top caucus night are:

1) The pre-realignment poll total: This is the early tally of how many civilization prefer every candidate at each of the more than 1,600 individual caucus sites (added together for a statewide total). Basically, the who acquired the most votes the very first time around.

2) The final vote total: after the first tally, any type of supporters the a candidate who got less than a particular threshold of the vote (15 percent in many precincts) can transition their support to an additional candidate. Candidates that are listed below the viability threshold are removed as “nonviable,” and a new and last tally is taken. Therefore this is who obtained the most votes after ~ a reshuffling.

3) State delegate equivalents: The last vote complete at each caucus website will then be used to assign each viable candidate a certain number of county delegates. Then those county delegate numbers will certainly be load to estimate their “state delegate equivalents” (how countless delegates each candidate will get at the Iowa state convention).

Announcing these three various results is a change for Iowa Democrats. In ahead years, just the state delegate equivalents were taped or reported. So when Hillary Clinton “beat” Sanders 49.84 percent come 49.59 percent in the 2016 caucuses, those percentages were of state delegate equivalents, no votes. Us don’t know how plenty of actual votes each candidate obtained that year.

This year, for the first time, we’ll get vote results too. That will certainly provide an ext transparency — but could result in a muddle.

The traditional metric because that determining that wins is the state delegate equivalents, since, after all, the autonomous nomination contest is a competition to success delegates. However the actual vote totals may seem an ext intuitively advantageous than something based upon a complex formula. And also Iowa’s importance has never yes, really been about delegates quiet — the about setup the narrative for the media and also political world. So just how will this narrative be set?

How the Iowa caucuses obtained to this strange place

Before spring under the hood at exactly how the Iowa democratic caucuses work, we must note the Iowa Republicans have quite different caucus rules: simply one ordinary vote, through a secret ballot, and also no realignment or facility “state delegate equivalent” formula. What they carry out looks a lot an ext like an simple primary.

Iowa Democrats, though, have argued that a caucus need to look and also feel various from a primary. They want public debate and deliberation. They want attendees to have the chance to readjust their minds. And these caucuses are technically just the very first step in a delegate selection process that goes forward to county conventions and eventually come Iowa’s state convention.

Fair enough. However Iowa democracy also want affect over the nationwide nominating process. They desire to create a clear an outcome for the media and also political world to do hay over. So they offered a facility metric known as “state delegate equivalents” the they started using come report candidate outcomes on caucus night.

Again, fair enough. However Iowa Democrats have also challenged criticism for the whole process’s complexity, its lack of transparency, and also its potential obstacles to participation (caucus gatherings can last for hours, which can be a problem for people who have child treatment or work, or don’t want to drive late at night).

These criticisms came to a head ~ the near Clinton-Sanders contest in 2016. Caucus precincts, together was customary, didn’t record how countless votes every candidate got. So as soon as reports that miscounted results spread on social media and in the push (many from Sanders supporters), there was no document trail that can prove or disprove their claims.

That’s why, in 2020, Iowa democrats have made decision to record and also report the actual vote totals for the first time, via presidential choice cards that will look choose this:

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one attendee examines a empty Presidential choice Card during a mock caucus occasion on January 28, 2020, in Mason City, Iowa. Tom Brenner/Getty images They’ve also simplified and limited the realignment process, in which world can readjust their support to other candidates. And also they’ve locked in the nationwide delegate assignment per candidate come the caucus night outcomes (rather than allowing them to adjust in later on county or state conventions).

So now the Iowa caucuses room no longer purely timeless caucuses — lock a hodgepodge combine primary and also caucus elements.

How the Iowa caucuses actually work: Vote-counting edition

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Members that the audience hear to event organizers during the start of a mock caucus event on January 28, 2020, in Mason City, Iowa. Tom Brenner/Getty photos top top caucus night, Democrats will certainly gather in ~ 1,678 precinct caucus website and much more than 90 “satellite caucus” sites because that Iowans who can’t do it to your precinct caucus.

To gain a sense of exactly how results at all these individual caucus sites end up being statewide numbers, stop walk through one theoretical precinct.

The first step (after some speeches and discussion) is because that attendees in the room to divide up, moving to sit or stand with others who support the exact same candidate. So stop say there space 100 attendees at this precinct caucus, and also they break-up up the complying with ways:

Bernie Sanders: 26 peopleJoe Biden: 23 peopleElizabeth Warren: 21 peoplePete Buttigieg: 16 peopleAmy Klobuchar: 14 people

This would be the pre-realignment poll total because that this precinct, and also this an outcome would it is in recorded and reported on the preference cards. (There is no an enig ballot.)

The number that matters next is the viability threshold — which is 15 percent in most precincts (but is higher in some precincts that have three or under delegates at stake). Let’s say the 15 percent in our sample precinct, though.

The method things job-related this year, a 15 percent threshold way supporters for candidates v 15 percent or over would be locked in — lock can’t readjust their votes now. Therefore here, those early Sanders, Biden, Warren, and also Buttigieg supporters space all locked in.

However, Klobuchar has fallen short, with just 14 the end of 100 supporters. So she supporters are now complimentary to move to support any of the viable candidates (or no one of them, if they prefer). They’d join one more candidate group and also record their new vote ~ above a preference card.

So let’s say Biden it s okay nine of this Klobuchar supporters, Sanders two, Warren three, and Buttigieg zero. The new vote total would be:

Biden: 32Sanders: 28Warren: 24Buttigieg: 16

And it is the final poll total. This would also be recorded and also reported. As you have the right to see, it relocated Biden from 2nd place to first. Realignment deserve to be important when there’s a break-up field and no one candidate is running away through a victory. And also this realignment process will play out individually in every precinct (meaning the won’t always be the same candidates who room viable).

So to get the statewide totals for both the pre-alignment vote and also the final vote, girlfriend just add up those number from every individual caucus site.

How the Iowa caucuses actually work: Delegate-counting edition

Now, once delegates come in is as soon as it it s okay really confusing. So let’s go with it in excruciating detail.

It will be familiar to friend from ahead primaries that the in its entirety vote result in a state dispute can differ rather from the delegate results. That’s due to the fact that Democrats have preset formulas for just how their national delegates room allotted (some indigenous statewide results, part from congressional district results, and also proportionally to candidates clearing 15 percent the the vote).

But the Iowa caucuses complicate points further since there room three various sets of delegates involved.

And every one of that is entirely different from the national delegates we’re accustomed to see in presidential primary results. These are the delegates Iowa will certainly send come the democratic National Convention. This year, it will send 41 pledged delegates (who space bound to support to details candidates based on the caucus results).

So, backing up: Remember that the crucial metric on caucus night the Iowa Democrats have tracked in years previous is referred to as state delegate equivalents.

In practice, this is a revolution of the precinct caucus night results — how many county convention delegates every candidate it s okay — to an estimate of how many state convention delegates that coincides to.

Let’s return, then, to our final vote complete above: Biden 32, Sanders 28, Warren 24, and Buttigieg 16. And let’s speak this result came in the 4th Precinct in Adair County. Exactly how does that interpret to delegate results?

Well, party officials consult a grasp delegate apportionment perform from Iowa democrats to calculate. Here’s the pertinent bit:

First off, this certain precinct will select 10 ar convention delegates. To obtain the ar convention delegate result, then, you use the final vote complete proportionally and also round whereby necessary. Here, Biden’s 32 supporters get him three delegates, Sanders’s 28 gain him three delegates, Warren’s 24 get her two delegates, and also Buttigieg’s 16 additionally get him two delegates. However then we have to adjust those county delegates come state delegate equivalents.And it transforms out the this precinct’s 10 ar delegates would be worth, together, 0.78 the a state delegate. So Biden and also Sanders each acquire three-tenths of that (0.234 state delegate equivalents), Warren and Buttigieg would get two-tenths every (0.156 state delegate equivalents),

Those, then, room the state delegate equivalent outcomes for this precinct.

So yes, the caucus-goers in ~ this individual website will be fighting for tiny piece of a fraction of a state delegate. And also then us repeat this because that 1,677 other precincts in Iowa and also the satellite caucus sites, include up all those small pieces, and we’ll have actually our results by state delegate equivalents. Simple, right?

Iowa Democrats want to be fair come candidates but likewise have a clear winner. The result is a mess.

The funny or maybe maddening element to every this is that the Iowa caucus outcomes barely matter to the true method Democrats select their nominee: national convention delegates.

This year, Iowa has 41 that those pledged delegates — about 1 percent of the national total. And also since they’re allotted proportionally based on the above results, it’s difficult for any candidate come rack increase a big lead there. (It would certainly barely matter even if a candidate did, due to the fact that the all at once number in ~ stake is so small.)

But the caucuses’ large impact ~ above the gyeongju has tiny to perform with delegates anyway. That all about the consciousness of the politics world. The media, party insiders, donors, activists, the candidates themselves, and also even voters somewhere else look at what can be fairly small differences in Iowa results — and come come conclusions around which candidates have “won” or “lost.”

You’ll notice that in our theoretical precinct results, though, we obtained three various results for who “won”:

For the pre-realignment total, Sanders had the most votes.For the final (post-realignment) poll total, Biden had actually the most.For state delegate equivalents, Sanders and also Biden were tied.

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Of course, the result didn’t readjust that much; Biden and Sanders were the peak two candidates and are close to each various other in all 3 metrics. Yet the state delegate equivalent formula way that discrepancies from the vote full may — will certainly — be presented in each those 1,600-plus precincts. If one candidate ends up being systematically disadvantaged by these discrepancies, a various metric could mean a various “winner.”

It might all result in a muddled mess. If a candidate it s okay the most votes however not the many state delegate equivalents, the or she will certainly surely shot to insurance claim victory, with great reason. Because that Democrats hope to winnow your field and also start come coalesce approximately a candidate, that might be unpleasant. But for those who have actually long believed Iowa has far too much affect on the nominating process, one incoherent outcome might actually it is in a great thing.