On February 3rd, Iowa hosted the first primary sequence before the 2020 Presidential Election. After months of fundraising and debating, five candidates emerged out of the Iowa Caucus with double-digit percentiles in State Delegate Equivalents, or SDEs. Both Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders claimed victory, while Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, and Amy Klobuchar gathered a lot of support as well. Buttigieg made his victory speech even as “we don’t know all the results,” while Bernie waited a few days as the delayed results trickled in. If you’re confused, I don’t blame you.
The caucus process is quite different from a primary election, such as New Hampshire’s. While a primary is by and large a typical ballot-voting event, a caucus is more of a conversation. Here’s how NBC describes the process:
“At most Democratic caucus locations, a candidate must get support from at least 15 percent of attendees to achieve viability. If that threshold isn’t met, a candidate’s supporters must realign to a different viable candidate or join with other nonviable groups to form a viable preference group. (One of those preference groups could be “uncommitted.”) And the number of delegates awarded at each caucus site is determined by a mathematical formula.”
The New York Times reports that less than 200,000 voters took part in the caucus in a state with over 2 million eligible voters. Bernie Sanders won the first vote, with 24.8%, and after caucus-goers had time to discuss their preferences, he won the final vote: 26.6% to Bernie, 25% to Pete. But who cares about the popular vote, right? In fact, it was Buttigieg who actually came away with 26.2% of SDEs, and Sanders with 26.1. The Associated Press hasn’t chosen a winner of this chaotic event due to the fine margins, and the fact that one precinct still hasn’t reported.
During the proceedings, a mobile app used by many precincts glitched out. Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez called for a ‘recanvass’ of specific areas. Two candidates declared themselves the winner. It’s been chaotic, but there are two things we’ve learned from Iowa.
For one, Buttigieg has flipped the centrist vote on its head. Joe Biden has for months been the frontrunner among the non-Medicare-for-All crowd, but now Pete “Medicare for All Who Want It” Buttigieg has swarmed to a lead. The former McKinsey & Company consultant is well-spoken and intelligent; most importantly, Artificial Intelligence believes he’s “the candidate to beat Trump,” although I’d like to ask AI whether it thinks health care is a human right. But at least Pete doesn’t buddy up to segregationists, am I right Joe?
A second takeaway is not as much of a surprise: Bernie Sanders is still, at best, the candidate to beat. At worst, the Vermont Senator is the progressive choice over Warren for the time being. His message of working-class unity has drawn swathes of supporters looking for a politician able and willing to make material changes to lives across the country. He’s the only candidate to receive an A+ from Greenpeace on climate policy, committed to expanding healthcare, educational, and workplace rights for all.
Iowa is another step towards a new America, but it hasn’t been made in one specific direction. Bernie and Warren made up 44% of the Iowa vote, while Buttigieg, Biden, and Klobuchar tallied 54% in total. It is early yet, and candidates like Tulsi Gabbard still have a shot to make noise New Hampshire. Hopefully the Granite State offers a result of greater certainty.