The formal process of choosing the nominee in each party takes place at the national party conventions, which will be held in the summer. Between now and then, the parties in each state choose the delegates to send to their respective conventions. In most states, it’s a primary election, where each voter shows up, steps into a booth, pulls a lever, then leaves. A handful of states do it differently: they have caucuses.
A caucus, usually held in the evening, is a local event. The voters show up, stay a few hours, listen to speeches on behalf of the candidates, then vote. The local caucuses send delegates to a state convention; the state convention chooses the delegates to the national convention. Even so, from the outcome at the caucus, it is known that night who has won the caucus.
The first two events in the primary season are the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. What those two states have in common is that they are small, predominately rural, and predominately white. And they have enormous influence over the rest of the season. It’s usual for some of the candidates to drop out of the race right after the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. So, a small and unrepresentative portion of the American voting population has a grossly disproportionate amount of influence over the outcome.
And there’s nothing illegal about it, for the following two reasons:
- The Constitution says absolutely nothing about there being a popular vote for the president.
- The primaries are run by the parties, which are essentially private clubs, in cooperation with state legislatures. The national government has little control or influence over them.
That said, next Monday’s Iowa caucus is important to watch. Right now, the polls and the conventional wisdom mostly favor Joe Biden as winning the nomination. But if someone other than Joe Biden wins the Iowa caucus, or even makes a good showing in it, that candidate will have picked up some momentum and thus become a more viable candidate. This especially applies with Bernie Sanders.
This website, fivethirtyeight.com, has a synthesis of poll results as well as a complete list of the primaries and caucuses in the order in which they’ll occur. It’s also recommended that you follow the news, which the links at the right of this page are designed to facilitate, to keep up with what’s going on.
Glancing at this evening’s stories on NPR, I see there’s one on Sanders’ appeal to Progressives. NPR report, January 30, 2020.
Oh…and I see Trump is out there in Iowa tonight (Thursday) for a rally. NPR report, January 30, 2020.