How the Iowa Caucuses differ from traditional primary polling

NOW: How the Iowa Caucuses differ from traditional primary polling

DES MOINES, Iowa -- While voters in most states, including Indiana and Michigan, go to traditional Election Day polling places to cast their primary ballots on voting machines, Iowa is much different. 

“The Democrats who show up for a precinct caucus will literally vote with their feet,” said Karen Kedrowski, director of the Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University. “It's a very physical, participatory experience.” 

For the first time this year there are also going to be satellite caucuses for Iowans who are outside the state and country. 

“It is much more communal it is much more deliberative and people are really able to think about who they want to represent them,” said Dr. Elizabeth Bennion, Indiana University South Bend political science professor. 

After some early speeches, supporters of each candidates walk over and stand in one area and raise their hands where they are counted. 

That is called the “first alignment.” 

If any candidate does not get 15 percent of the people in their corner, they are considered “not viable” and are basically eliminated. 

Caucus-goers can then engage in something called jaw-boning. It’s when viable candidate supporters try to verbally sway the newly independent voters freed up from the non-viable candidates to join their team. Those non-viable voters can also band together to try and make a non-viable candidate viable again. They could also form a non-commitment group. 

“You can show physically which candidate you support by going to the appropriate corner or section of the room and as people try to convince one another you can move over to another section,” said Bennion. “It’s very physical, it’s very visual and it’s also an opportunity to convince your neighbors.”

After jawboning, caucus-goers raise their hand and gather a second time for the “final alignment.” They also submit caucus preference cards, passing them into a bucket, incase there has to be a recount. 

The real winner is the candidate who gets the most Iowa delegates to the Democratic Nationaal  Convention. There are complicated mathematical equations to make sure each caucus site gets the proper representation based on their size and number of caucus-goers in that location. 

“In some ways it’s a cross between the old system where party bosses would decide who these nominees would be and the modern primary where individual voters make those decisions at the booths,” said Bennion.

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