Those who are sick of the endless debate over whether any of the polls released thus far have merit can start to relax. The “invisible primary” is almost over. The first official contest in the 2016 nominations process will take place on Monday in the form of the Iowa caucuses. After all the polls, all the candidate visits, and a particularly entertaining final Republican debate (and parallel event hosted by Trump), caucus-goers in Iowa are set to get down to business at 7pm CST on Monday in the more than 1,500 precincts across the state.

We here at the Political Saints blog are excited to bring you the first round of predictions of the 2016 cycle. On Saturday, expect to see eight different predictions appear on the blog. Students will include predictions for vote percentages and delegate allocation for each candidate for the Republican and Democratic Parties. Before getting underway, however, we’d like to go over a bit of background on the Iowa caucuses and how the process works for both parties.


For the Republicans, this process is fairly straightforward. Typically, registered voters will find their caucus location and show up by 7pm. Of the roughly 1,700 precincts, several are caucusing in the same location, so the real number of locations is only about 900 or so. Non-registered Republicans will be able to register at the caucus.

Once there, candidates will have representatives on site – called precinct captains – to help those caucus-goers who have already decided to support their candidate. Some candidates, such as Rand Paul, have boasted that they will have precinct captains at all caucus locations.

Following a call to order and the pledge of allegiance, the candidates’ representatives will each get time to speak, to try to convince undecided caucus-goers to support their preferred candidate.

After the speeches comes the preference vote. This is the main event. While in previous cycles, the preference vote didn’t bind any convention delegates, that isn’t the case in 2016. This means that no candidate who didn’t win the preference vote will be able to control the Iowa delegation to the Republican convention, as Ron Paul did in 2012. After the preference votes are cast, many caucus-goers will exit, but the party isn’t quite over yet. The local party committee may have additional business to attend to, but that business does not affect the presidential nominations process.

Several campaigns have started to produce their own how-to videos. Here’s an example from Ted Cruz, who is expected to finish in the top two in Iowa on Monday:

The allocation of delegates in Iowa follows a fairly simple rule: Any candidate earning above 3.3% of the vote will also earn delegates to the convention in a manner proportional to the votes he or she received. There are some specific quirks in Iowa regarding rounding and the allocation of leftover delegates, but I’ll leave it to nominations rules guru Josh Putnam to explain the nitty gritty details.


For the Democrats, this process is considerably more complex. Like the Republicans, caucus-goers must be registered and will have the option to do so on site. After arriving at their caucus location, participants will be organized according to the candidate they support. Frequently, campaigns will have representatives (precinct captains) holding signs or wearing easily identifiable attire.

Once all caucus-goers are organized by candidate (there may also be a group of uncommitted voters), they will be tallied by an official. If any candidate’s (or the uncommitted group’s) collection of participants falls below 15% of the total number of caucus-goers in attendance, they will have to choose one of the candidates who have over 15%.

In practice, this means that Martin O’Malley’s supporters may end up swaying the outcome for Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. Iowans for O’Malley should expect to be courted heavily by representatives from both the Sanders and Clinton campaigns.

The original tally will be widely reported (so we should know how much support O’Malley has), but delegate allocation requires that these other supporters choose one of the better-represented options. At this point, with the combined original caucus-goers and the new (formerly O’Malley) supporters will be tallied in each camp, with delegate allocation falling in proportion to their support.

It’s a crazy process, to be sure. Both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns have produced how-to videos. Here is a simulation video from the Sanders campaign:

We hope you enjoy the forthcoming predictions – stay tuned for all of our Iowa predictions, with the predictions for New Hampshire following later next week!

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