Part 2 of Your Guide to the Iowa Caucuses

A two-part guide telling you all you need to know about the Iowa Caucus. Today we highlight why Iowa has the first say in presidential elections, how much influence it has on the outcome of the election and why voters should be involved.

Before the political campaign reached a frenzy, I sat down with Bradley Dyke, political science department chairman at Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny, who explained what a caucus is, how it affects the presidential election and the different processes used by each political party when holding a caucus.

In part one of our Guide to the Iowa Caucus, Dyke explained the definition of a caucus, how it is different than a primary election and who can participate. He also highlighted what happens the night of the Iowa Caucus, as well as how the Republican caucus process works.

Patch: When and where is the Iowa Caucus typically held?

Bradley Dyke: It depends on the voting district. There are 1,774 precincts in the state of Iowa. Each party has its own place to meet, which usually is a public gathering place where you can comfortably meet with people.

The caucus is usually held in January. For a week-long period, it turns the state into a carnival of sorts. It’s a media carnival but it’s also a huge moneymaker for the state because of all the people it brings to it. (This year's date is Jan. 3.)

Patch: So why is Iowa first? Why hold the caucus here?

Dyke: There is no good answer to that other than tradition. Iowa doesn’t get a chance to be first at very much, if we’re honest about it. We’re a small state with a small population, but we put a great deal of emphasis on friendliness. We’re a state that wants to welcome people and we’re a state that takes the democratic process very seriously.

Patch: So is how well candidates do in the Iowa Caucus a good indicator to how they’ll do in the 2012 general election?

Dyke: As a political scientist, I’m skeptical about the validity of this, but there is such a thing as momentum, as trending. If people believe it is important, it kind of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

But it is true that Iowa does play a role in determining what the outcome is. We tend to give the rest of the country a sense of who the top runners are, which is one of the reasons this is such a sought after (state). 

Patch: Why do you, as a political scientist, feels it’s important that people participate in the caucus process?

Dyke: It gives everyone a chance to get together and have a chance to say his or her part. It might not be representative of the majority of voters out there, but it’s what we have to work with.


The Basics of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses

  • All caucuses begin at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 3. Members of the Republican Party of Iowa recommend you be at your precinct prior to 7 p.m. You don't have to be 18 to vote in the Caucus. So long as you will be 18 by election day (Nov. 6, 2012), you can take part in the caucus.
  • Not a Republican? No worries, you can switch teams at the caucus site. You can register as a Republican by bringing a valid photo ID with your current address. If your ID does not display the current address, make sure to bring a document, such as a utility bill, that proves where you live.
  • Now you need to find your caucus location. Already registered to vote? Find your precinct on your voter registration card then visit the state party's caucus website to find your caucus location. Go to “Find My Caucus” and click the “View by County” option. Select the county you live in, then find your caucus location. Not registered? Before following the steps above, visit the Iowa Secretary of State’s precinct finder.


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