During an election, caucuses are often used as a measurement of each candidate’s popularity. Voters get together to decide which candidates should receive the most delegates. This can be a convoluted process.
While many claim that contests such as the famous Iowa caucuses are the epitome of democracy, others contend that they are in fact a better example of the way politics is played in Washington D.C. They can be somewhat of a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” set up, where last minute deals are often made to garner votes. Various campaigns may even provide childcare, food, or transportation to voters, which some see as a form of bribery. Others see it as just another part of the political process.
Unlike a primary election, caucuses don’t have usually have secret ballots. People must physically move to a space in the meeting place, which indicates the candidate they support. Under such a set up, some question whether peer pressure plays a role in the ultimate outcome. If a person is the only one in the room supporting a candidate, it can be intimidating, especially if others work to convince that person to move to their side of the room.
Some caucuses also use a viability option. This allows the party to exclude candidates that receive less than a certain percentage of the support in the room. In Iowa, the Democratic caucuses use such a method, and a candidate generally needs at least 15% to be considered viable. People who support candidates who become excluded are then asked to move to a space that indicates their second preference.
Candidates who are not excluded but barely rise above the required percentage are often persuaded to transfer their votes to another candidate. Under this type of system, no one really knows how many individual votes a candidate receives. This can create a situation where some voters don’t feel as if their vote has much of an impact.
Still, caucuses tend to have a lot of influence on elections. Many times, candidates issue statements beforehand and vow to drop out of the race if they do not achieve one of the top spots when voting has concluded. In this way, caucuses can help “winnow” or narrow the field of candidates.
Such contests may indicate voting trends to some extent. However, caucuses aren’t always accurate predictors of whom the ultimate winner will be. While some who win in Iowa do go on to become president that isn’t always the case. Other early states also have an influence.