Iowa Caucuses 2016: What’s Happening?

White House hopefuls are getting their first test with voters tonight in Iowa, where caucusing is in full swing. 

Joining us from Des Moines, Iowa to talk about that and more is "Chicago Tonight's" Carol Marin.

Below, some highlights from our conversation.

On the confidence of the different campaigns

“None of them are saying they have momentum,” Marin said. “This is a very cautious crowd. This is a believer universe in many camps, but everyone is loath to say we’ve got it locked. They’ve been campaigning ‘til the very last minute – door knocking at 4 o’clock this afternoon, cold-calling people at 5 o’clock this afternoon. I don’t think anyone thinks they’re a lead-pipe cinch on this, nor should they, because turnout could turn this upside down.”

On voter turnout

“A colleague of mine has just gone to a caucus … she says it is jam-packed with people,
 Marin said.

“There’s a fervor here, especially when you get into the Trump and the Sanders people. And so the question really is, how does it all shake out?”

On the novelty of this year’s election

“We are seeing something truly different,” Marin said. “We are seeing the caucus of the outsider. And the question will be whether the outsiders, who don’t often caucus as much as the mainstream, are going to hold the day here.”

Watch the video to hear our full discussion.

What is a caucus?

According to Merriam-Webster, a caucus is “a meeting of members of a political party for the purpose of choosing candidates for an election.”

What are the Iowa caucuses?

Both the Iowa Democratic Party and the Republican Party of Iowa describe the event as an organized gathering of neighbors who meet to discuss issues and candidates. The Iowa caucuses are held every election year and this year there will be 1,681 caucuses (one in each precinct).

Listen to NPR’s explainer on Iowa caucuses, below.

How do the Iowa Caucuses work?

Both the Democratic and Republican caucuses will begin at 7 p.m. Monday. People interested in participating in either party’s caucuses must be 18 years old on Election Day, reside in the precinct in which they wish to participate and be registered with either the Democratic or Republican party. Registration is available for both parties on caucus night.

While caucuses for both parties are more grassroots-oriented in nature than primaries, Republican and Democratic caucuses differ procedurally. Below, read each party’s process.

Democratic Caucus

  1. There’s a call to order.
  2. Attendees elect a caucus chair and secretary.
  3. Supporters make their case for candidates.
  4. Attendees will form presidential preference groups based on the candidates they most prefer. If caucus-goers are unsure of which candidate they prefer, they can declare themselves as “uncommitted.”
  5. Once the groups are formed, the caucus chair must determine that all preference groups are viable and that there are not more preference groups than there are delegates to elect. In order for a candidate to be considered viable, at least 15 percent of caucus-goers must declare support for that candidate.
  6. If a caucus’ group is too small to be considered “viable,” those attendees will be asked to realign themselves with a different candidate or they can declare themselves “uncommitted.”
  7. After the realignment process occurs and all groups are deemed “viable,” meaning each group has enough members to be eligible to elect at least one delegate to the county convention, each group will elect its county convention delegates from its members.
  8. Caucus-goers will then elect Democratic Party precinct leadership.
  9. Attendees will then introduce or discuss party platform resolutions and vote on those resolutions.

Republican Caucus

  1. Call to order is made by a temporary chair, who is appointed by the county party.
  2. Caucus-goers elect a permanent chair and secretary.
  3. Representatives for presidential candidates as well as attendees make short speeches about why they are supporting a particular candidate.
  4. Attendees vote via an informal secret ballot, such as an anonymous paper ballot, on who they support for president.
  5. Votes are tallied and reported to party headquarters.
  6. Attendees elect county Republican central committee members as well as delegates, alternate delegates and junior delegates to the county convention.
  7. Depending on the county, caucus-goers will also elect members of standing committees to the county convention.
  8. Attendees will also discuss, submit and vote on platform planks to the county convention.