How The Iowa Caucus Works, In 2 Minutes (Starring Legos)

Jan 27, 2016

When we asked our audience (that's you) for questions about the Iowa caucuses, a lot of people were curious about the unorthodox process of caucusing.

How do they work? Who gets to participate? It's definitely not like Vermont's primary process — here are the basics.

To participate in the Democratic caucus in Iowa, a person must: 

  • Be 18 years old by the day of the general election. This cycle, that means if your 18th birthday is on or before Nov. 8, 2016, you can participate in the Iowa caucus. 
  • Be a registered Democrat. Technically the caucuses are "closed," meaning only party-members may participate, but according to the Iowa Democratic Party, it's possible to register as a Democrat on caucus night itself.
  • Be a resident in the precinct you plan to caucus in. While there is no minimum residency requirement, *Iowa defines residency as spending nights at your in-precinct address.*

So, day of, how does the caucus work? 

We cast a few Legos to help us explain.

Music by Minden. Something Small (Instrumental) is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License.

How do the results of the caucus at each precinct translate into the final statewide results?

After the caucuses are over, the citizens of Iowa are done picking presidential candidates until the general election in November. However, Democratic party officials still have quite a bit of convoluted math to do (you can find more about that here) in order to determine how Iowa's delegates' support will be split up at the Democratic National Convention in the summer.

VPR’s coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign is made possible in part by the VPR Journalism Fund.