The End of the Iowa Caucuses As We Know Them

Many Southern states, traditionally Republican strongholds, have recently shifted to be battleground states. North Carolina and Georgia are now swing states, after both voted Republican in six of the last seven presidential elections. This shift is mostly due to demographic changes and voter mobilization: North Carolina has seen an increase in young educated professionals, and over 800,000 citizens registered to vote in Georgia—spearheaded by Stacey Abrams, who founded Fair Fight, an organization focused on educating and registering young voters of color. 

The Midwest has, historically, been home to many swing states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, and Indiana have all been classified as swing states in the last four presidential elections. However, as demographics and hot button issues change, swing states change, as does the electoral map. Many analysts no longer see Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa as swing states after Trump’s populism and anti-trade stances made him particularly attractive to white, working-class voters. 

The Iowa caucuses as we know them today began in the 1960s and 1970s. After the violent 1968 Democratic National Convention, the Democratic Party wanted to put the nominating process into the hands of everyday people, and Democrats in Iowa changed the caucus process to be more locally focused. As the first voting event in the process of choosing a presidential nominee, performing well in the caucuses gives candidates a media boost ahead of the rest of the presidential primaries. For this reason, candidates often build their platforms around issues that Iowa voters care about.

In early February, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) passed a new primary calendar. The new calendar moved Iowa out of the early window, with the more racially diverse South Carolina holding the first primary, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada—which is 29.9% Hispanic—on the same day, then Georgia and Michigan. Many Democrats believe that Iowa—which is whiter and more rural than most other blue states—is not representative of the Democratic Party’s constituents. DNC chair Jaime Harrison said that the new calendar “expands the number of voices that can be heard,” and that “women and diverse communities are at the core of the Democratic party.”

Iowans—and other Midwesterners—are not pleased with the new calendar. Scott Brennan, a DNC member from Iowa, stated that it is important for “small, rural states” like Iowa to “have a voice in the presidential nominating process.” Rural or small town voters in the Midwest already feel neglected by the Democratic Party, feeling as if they do not have a clear vision for improving rural areas. Diminishing Iowa’s political power and moving it to a coastal—albeit poor and Black—state will no doubt cause the Democratic Party to lose even more voters in the Midwest. 

The Republican National Committee voted unanimously in April 2022 to uphold the existing presidential nominating calendar, with Iowa caucusing first followed by the New Hampshire primary. Iowa’s Republican state government has shown no sign that they will move the Democratic primary date. Iowa also has a state law that mandates that the Iowa caucuses are the first step in the national presidential nominating process. Rita Hart, the Iowa DNC chair, has said that Iowa will follow state law when setting their caucus date, indicating that Iowa will defy the calendar set by the DNC and will continue to hold their caucus before any other primary.

If Iowa does not move their caucus date, the DNC could strip Iowa of their delegates at the 2024 Democratic National Convention or even prevent Democratic presidential candidates from campaigning in the state. Either of these steps would be catastrophic for Iowa and for the Democratic Party within Iowa. If Iowa does concede and ends up moving their caucus, Iowa and the rural Midwest will lose an immense amount of political power, which could be especially disastrous as rural voters already feel abandoned by the Democratic Party.