The Iowa caucuses are on Monday — here’s what you need to know

Iowa voters will bear subzero wind chills on Jan. 15 to sit in school gyms, churches and community centers and discuss who they want to be the next U.S. president.

The Iowa caucuses are the first voting events in the Republican presidential primary. They tend to provide an initial signal of which direction a presidential election is headed.

For GOP candidates who have been campaigning for months to unseat incumbent President Joe Biden, Iowa is a tipping point. It could provide candidates the momentum they need to close the polling gap with Republican frontrunner and former President Donald Trump. Or it could further confirm Trump’s stranglehold on the Republican base and widen his path to the nomination.

What is a caucus?

A caucus is an in-person meeting where individuals convene to coordinate on a particular issue.

In the case of a presidential election, a caucus is where voters give and listen to speeches about candidates and then cast their votes. It is different from the now more common presidential primary structure, where voters go to polling places throughout Election Day and cast secret votes or mail those votes in remotely.

For the Republican caucus, there is no remote option. Voters must show up in person at their designated local precincts at a preset time, which can exclude those who may want to attend but cannot due to logistical barriers like childcare and work schedules. It also self-selects for voters who are comfortable expressing their political views in public.

Caucuses used to be far more prevalent in the U.S. election system than they are now. Along with Iowa, only three other states still caucus: Nevada, Wyoming and North Dakota. U.S. territories like American Samoa, Guam and the Virgin Islands also hold caucuses.

Why do Iowa caucuses matter?

The logistical difficulties of caucusing make Iowa a helpful gauge of the strength of a candidate’s voter base. Those who find a way to spend their Monday evening in a high school gym during a blizzard tend to be uniquely ardent supporters of their candidate.

More tangibly, the results of the caucuses determine the proportion of Iowa’s 40 delegates that each candidate will get. Iowa represents a small portion of delegates nationally, however, so winning the state delegate-wise is not always a candidate’s primary goal.

Instead, Iowa is more about exceeding expectations so that a candidate can spin a narrative of momentum for the rest of the primaries. As the first official litmus test of a candidate’s viability, the results are a way for voters to determine who stands a chance on the national stage.

Historically, Iowa has been more determinant of Democratic presidential nominees than Republicans.

How will Republicans caucus in Iowa?

Republican voters will gather at their designated local precincts across the state on Monday evening. There, a caucus chair and secretary will be elected to run the meeting. Surrogates will then give public speeches on behalf of candidates before caucusgoers cast their…

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