Iowa Caucus: Overview and Live Results

February 3, 2020

Months of campaigning and millions of dollars in spending preceded the Iowa Democratic caucuses.  All that for a mere 41 pledged delegates - just over 1% of the total that will be allocated during the 57 primary and caucus events over the next four months.  However, it is the first opportunity for voters to pass judgment on a historically large field.  The verdict of voters in Iowa and next week's New Hampshire Primary has proved predictive:  Every winner -except one1 1In 1992, Bill Clinton did not win a contest until March 3. The four contests preceding that date were each won by a different candidate. - of a contested major-party nomination since 1980 has won at least one of these two states. Additionally, the result in these states will almost certainly winnow the field.

If you'd like to read more on how the caucuses work, here are some explainers from The New York Times, NPR, Politico, and The Washington Post.

In the interest of transparency, or perhaps to confuse people, the Iowa Democratic Party will release four sets of results tonight.   We expect the first results to start arriving after 8:00 PM ET; the tables below will update with those results as they come in.

Round One - First Alignment:  This will be the initial preference of caucusgoers across the state's nearly 1,700 precincts. The percentage results here should be somewhat consistent with the statewide polling that has preceded the caucus (if that polling proves accurate).  However, the candidate leading after this round may not end up as the winner. This is because of the 15% viability threshold. 

Round 2 - Final Alignment: Candidates that don't receive 15% in Round 1 are considered nonviable. However, this threshold is determined at each individual precinct.2 2For example, a candidate receiving 18% statewide in Round 1 may not be viable in all precincts. On the other hand, a candidate at 10% may be viable in some. In Round 2, caucusgoers who have supported a nonviable candidate at their location will have the option to move to a viable candidate3 3Caucusgoers associated with a viable candidate in Round 1 are locked in. This is a change from prior cycles. or join forces with supporters of another nonviable candidate in an attempt to get one of them across the threshold.

State Delegate Equivalents and Delegates: Still with us?  We've finally arrived at the results that matter. Round 2 totals are translated into state delegate equivalents. The person with the most state delegate equivalents is considered the winner by most media organizations. The result here should largely reflect the Round 2 results. However, since all precincts are not weighted equally, it is possible that the candidate getting the most votes in Round 2 will not be the winner.

Finally, those 41 pledged delegates are awarded proportionately based on the state delegate equivalents - for the most part.  As is the case in other states, a predetermined number of Iowa's delegates to the national convention are awarded based on the statewide vote, with some awarded based on the vote in each congressional district.  Depending on how the results break across the individual districts, there could be a situation - especially in a close race like this - where the person winning the most state delegates does not receive the most pledged delegates.4 4This outcome happened in the 2008 Nevada caucuses, where Hillary Clinton won the statewide vote by over 5 points, but Barack Obama ended up with a 13-12 margin in delegates.

Republican Caucuses:  Only one set of results is expected here.  40 pledged delegates will be allocated proportionately based on the statewide vote.

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