2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses
The 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses were the first nominating contest in the Democratic Party's series of presidential primaries for the 2020 presidential election. They took place in Iowa on Monday, February 3, 2020. Typically, as has frequently been the case in past election cycles, the winner of the caucus is expected to have a significant advantage for the next stage of the primaries.
The initial results of the caucus appeared to show a narrow win for candidate Pete Buttigieg, but were overshadowed by technical problems surrounding the reporting of the vote and concerns about its accuracy. The Associated Press refused to declare an Iowa Caucus winner.
The Iowa caucus differs from conventional primary elections in that it does not include a single step of casting individual ballots. It is sometimes known as a walking subcaucus, in which groups of voters choose representative delegates who are pledged to a particular candidate. Absentee or mail-in votes are not allowed; nor are voters not registered as Democrats allowed to participate (though Iowa citizens wishing to participate can register with the party on the day of the caucus vote). For Iowa Democrats not able to be physically present, there are 99 satellite caucus sites in various locations around the world.
At 7:00 p.m. CST on the day of the vote, caucuses are held in each of Iowa's 1,678 voting precincts (in addition to the aforementioned satellite caucuses). Registered Democrats present at the precincts then vote for delegates to county conventions, which in turn will select delegates for conventions at each of Iowa's four congressional districts, and for the state Democratic convention. The number of delegates chosen per precinct varies according to its population; some choose only one, while others choose four or more.
Each precinct has at least two rounds of voting, in which members separate into groups based on their preferred candidate and select delegates. The number of delegates allotted to each group depends on its size within the precinct caucus and the number of delegates allotted to the precinct caucus overall. Therefore, each candidate group must meet a viability threshold; in one-delegate precincts, this is a minimum of 50% of those present, 25% in two-delegate precincts, 16.67% in three-delegate precincts, and 15% in larger precincts. Groups not meeting this threshold may transfer their votes to another candidate during the final round of voting.
The caucus vote is not the end of the delegate selection process, as the higher rounds of voting have yet to take place. The county conventions (this year on Saturday, March 21) will pick delegates for conventions in their respective congressional districts (to be held on Saturday, April 25) and the state Democratic convention (Saturday, June 13). These final two conventions will select the 41 delegates who (in addition to eight unpledged delegates) will represent Iowa at the 2020 Democratic National Convention.
After the results of the individual precinct votes are released, a winner is determined based on the total number of pledged delegates and the projected number of delegates this will translate to among those 41 pledged for the national convention. Since the slate of candidates on the date of the caucus will almost certainly change between the date of the caucus and the date of the convention, the convention will see some reshuffling of the share of delegates, as is true of those chosen in other state primaries and caucuses.
During the early stages of the 2020 presidential campaign, former Vice-President Joe Biden dominated the polling for the Iowa caucus, averaging 20-30% of the vote. Beginning in August 2019, the situation became more fluid, with Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Bernie Sanders all dominating the field at different times. The latest polls have indicated significant movement in Sanders' direction: a YouGov and CBS News poll covering the period January 22-31, 2020, had him and Biden tied with 25% of the vote each, while an Emerson College poll released on February 2 gave the socialist senator a seven-point lead over Biden.
The most recent poll aggregators have suggested a lead for Sanders, with 22-24%, followed closely by Biden and then by Buttigieg and Warren.
|Poll aggregator||Polling date||Bernie Sanders||Joe Biden||Pete Buttigieg||Elizabeth Warren||Amy Klobuchar||Andrew Yang||Tom Steyer||Other||Undecided|
|270 to Win||January 16-30, 2020||24.1%||20.1%||15.9%||14.4%||10.3%||3.7%||3.3%||3.6%||4.6%|
|RealClear Politics||January 20-27, 2020||23.8%||20.2%||15.8%||14.6%||9.6%||3.8%||3.6%||3.0%||5.6%|
|FiveThirtyEight||to January 30, 2020||22.1%||21.5%||15.5%||14.3%||10.1%||3.5%||3.5%||2.5%||7.0%|
A poll by the Des Moines Register, due to be released on February 1, was scrapped, the reason given being that Buttigieg was not included as an option in some of the questioning. This was the first time in 76 years that the Register did not release a pre-caucus poll. FiveThirtyEight confirmed on February 3 that the poll results had unexpectedly showed Biden in fourth place, trailing Sanders, Warren, and Buttigieg, fueling speculation that the Biden campaign and/or higher-ups in the Democratic Party had forced the newspaper to suppress the poll.
Traditionally, results of the Iowa caucuses are known and verified on the same night they are held, usually within a few hours. This was not the case with the 2020 Democratic caucuses, however, as results from the various precincts failed to be announced. The lag in reporting was blamed on technical difficulties--unlike in the past when paper ballots and direct telephone calls to party headquarters had been used to verify results, for 2020 the Iowa Democratic Party used an "app" for the communication of results. Reports of difficulties experienced by precinct chairmen in using the app surfaced even before the beginning of the caucus vote on Monday evening, and following the vote, many of them were unable to send the results at all.
Late Monday night, the Iowa Democratic Party announced it would conduct a "quality control" on the vote count "out of an abundance of caution," and that announcement of the final results would be postponed. Partial results were not released until the following afternoon; with 62% of precincts reporting, these showed a narrow lead for Pete Buttigieg, with Bernie Sanders a close second. Elizabeth Warren came third, followed by Joe Biden in fourth--much to the surprise of many observers and even Biden staffers, who had not expected the former Vice-President to do so poorly. More results trickled in over the next two days; while Warren, Biden, and other candidates did not change their relative positions, the gap between Buttigieg and Sanders narrowed considerably. As of Thursday, February 6, with 97% of precincts reporting, the actual winner of the caucus was still in doubt.
Further complicating matters was the fact that, while Buttigieg maintained a slight lead in that he had secured more delegates for the later conventions, Sanders had more actual votes. This fueled suspicion that the Democratic party leadership, doubting Sanders' ability to win a general election, had coordinated with the other campaigns to deny him delegates by diverting a few to those who were clearly losing. Additionally, it became clear that even the released numbers did not match those initially reported by many precincts, or in some cases even comply with the mathematical rules of the caucuses. On Thursday, Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez made a statement via Twitter, calling on Iowa party officials to begin a recanvass of the caucus votes, citing the problems in "the implementation of the delegate selection plan" and the need to "assure public confidence in the results."
Full results were finally reported on the evening of Thursday, February 6. They showed a very narrow win for Buttigieg, with 26.198% of delegates selected for the later conventions, as compared to 26.128% for Sanders. Warren and Biden held their positions, with 17.98% and 15.85%, respectively. Given the aforementioned problems in reporting, it was not immediately clear if these would stand as final results or if they would be contested.
|Candidate||Votes received||Vote percentage||Delegates received||Delegate percentage|
There was no clear demographic or regional distribution of votes cast. Sanders won Polk County, the location of state capital Des Moines, as well as Linn County, home to the state's second-largest city, Cedar Rapids; but Warren won Johnson County, home to the University of Iowa.
The final vote count also revealed lower-than-expected enthusiasm among Democrats, at least as indicated by turnout. The New York Times reported that “The leading campaigns were prepared for as many as 300,000 people to show up — 60,000 more than the record set in 2008. Instead just 176,000 showed up, less than 3 percent more than in 2016.”
On election night the Iowa Democratic party stopped counting when 98% of precincts were counted and Bernie Sanders was ahead by 2,500 votes. Only the precincts that would likely help Buttigieg were recounted, and the remainder of precincts were weighted to Sanders. Under the apportionment system Buttigieg was awarded two more delegates and claimed victory, but Sanders won the statewide popular vote.
Subsequent controversy about the failure of the Iowa caucus centered on the new app used by the Iowa Democratic Party for precinct managers to report results. This app, which was also slated to be used for the Nevada Democratic caucus, was developed by tech company Shadow, Inc., which in turn was launched by a SuperPAC called Acronym. It is clear that senior members within the DNC were involved with both groups. Former Clinton campaign chairman Robby Mook vetted the app for the Democratic party, and Acronym CEO Tara McGowan is a former journalist and Obama for America operative. Acronym was founded by billionaire Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn. Hoffman funded Project Birmingham, a covert voter suppression and fake news campaign based on the Russian model during the dirty 2017 Doug Jones/Roy Moore Alabama Senate race. Obama crony David Plouffe sits on the board of Acronym.
There are also ties between these two groups and Buttigieg's presidential campaign. FEC records show Buttigieg for America, the candidate's SuperPAC, paid $42,000 to Shadow Inc.; moreover, McGowan's spouse is a senior advisor to Buttigieg's campaign. These connections have fueled speculation that the vote-counting problems associated with the caucus were not in fact accidental, but part of a deliberate effort by the DNC leadership to prevent Sanders from gaining momentum from a victory. As seven of the previous nine winners of the Iowa caucus have gone on to win the Democratic nomination, a clear Sanders win would have given his campaign a serious boost, and many senior Democratic Party officials have expressed concern that an openly socialist candidate would have no chance at winning the general election. As further evidence of a "fix," it was noted that three of the delegates awarded to Buttigieg (who won by a margin of only two delegates) were chosen by a coin toss.