Iowa Caucuses Full Of Drama, Come To A Surprising End


Pete Buttigieg addresses his supporters during his Iowa caucus watch party | Tom Brenner/Getty Images

Jonah Woolley, Politics Writer

On Monday, the entire country braced for the first major event in the 2020 presidential primary season: the Iowa Caucuses.

Starting back in 1976, Iowa gained the status as the first in line to vote during the primary season. Months before other states hold their primaries, Iowans get to head to caucuses to vote.

As a result, Iowa gets to set the tone for the rest of the election season. If a presidential candidate performs well in the state, it can be a massive source of momentum, driving even small candidates to national prominence and setting them up as a frontrunner in the election. 

A prominent example of this is Barack Obama, who began his presidential campaign as a little-known Senator from Illinois, but won in Iowa and was able to use that to turn himself into a real contender.

This year, eyes were trained especially on the Democratic caucuses, where Iowa is even more important. In 7 of the last 10 presidential elections, the winner of the Iowa caucuses in the Democratic Party went on to win the nomination.

Here, there are still dozens of candidates vying for the Democratic nomination and a chance to challenge President Donald Trump, and winning Iowa was seen as a must for many candidates wanting to separate themselves from the pack.

As Monday night approached, political observers eagerly awaited the results from Iowa, to see a glimpse of the results in a primary that has been a mess, and, so far, hasn’t had a clear frontrunner.

At 8:30 PM, the first results were set to be released, but there was nothing. 9 PM rolled around, and there was still nothing. Then 10 PM. 11 PM.

People around the country held their breath, wondering what the holdup was, and late on Monday night, the Iowa Democratic Party came out to say there would be no results, as there had been “inconsistencies” in the voting.

This is because, in Iowa, the Democratic Party decided to use a smartphone app to aid in the counting of votes at the caucuses, which has historically been a chaotic process. The app was meant to make things more efficient and give a safe way to transmit results from voting precincts to the state, but the app ended up malfunctioning on the night of the caucuses.

Party officials noted discrepancies between manual counts of the votes and vote tallies reported by the app and decided it wasn’t safe to release the rest of the data the app had given them as it could also be wrong.

To rectify the issue, they announced they had to manually count all of the votes to make sure they had the right totals, and then they could release the results to the public.

Upon hearing this, many voters grew angry. The recount meant the voting process had to stretch on far longer, and it would be days before they would be offered closure.

The voting discrepancies also fed into conspiracy theories that were spread by the supporters of a variety of candidates. The biggest of these came from supporters of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who claimed he was being cheated out of votes and that the “verification” of the tallies was actually officials doctoring votes. No evidence has been found to suggest that’s the case.

Throughout Tuesday and Wednesday, results were slowly released, and by Thursday, 97% of precincts had reported, with the final results being quite different from what was expected.

Heading into Iowa, polls suggested a narrow victory by Bernie Sanders. Poll aggregator RealClearPolitics put Sanders at 23%, with Joe Biden in second at 19.3%, Pete Buttigieg in third with 16.8%, and Elizabeth Warren in fourth with 15.5%.

However, the results were a bit muddled. Individual polls in Iowa had shown leads with a variety of candidates, from Sanders to Buttigieg to Biden, so it was hard to know exactly what to expect.

In the end, the winner of the Iowa Caucuses by a very narrow margin was Pete Buttigieg.

Buttigieg got 26.2% of the vote, giving him 14 delegates, and allowing him to eke out Bernie Sanders, who got 26.1% of the vote and received 12 delegates.

Behind them at 18.2% was Elizabeth Warren, who got 8 delegates. Then there was Biden in fourth, with 15.8% and 6 delegates, then Amy Klobuchar with 12.2% and 1 delegate, Andrew Yang with 1% and 0 delegates, and Tom Steyer with 0.3%.

The message this sends for the rest of the Democratic primary is unexpected, and also not really conclusive.

It places Sanders and Buttigieg as the real top dogs in the process, with Buttigieg getting a slight edge. This is good news for the South Bend mayor, as his campaign had lost a bit of steam in recent weeks, and this provides a concrete boost to him. It shows that he can get people out to vote and is a real contender.

It also shows the weakness of Joe Biden. Biden still polls in front nationally by a few percentage points, but he put up a pretty bad showing in Iowa, which spells bad news for him in the rest of the campaign.

Given Biden is from the midwest, coming from Pennsylvania, having a negative result in another midwestern state where he is supposed to have appeal is bad for his campaign.

While he is far from out, and he’s likely to regain momentum in other early primary states like South Carolina, where he polls significantly in the lead, it sends a message that he may not be as safe and electable as it seems.

Andrew Yang, a candidate who has risen to prominence online and who’s been known for his outreach to Asian Americans also had a bad night in Iowa, with only 1% of the vote.

This threatens to crush his campaign, as it serves as a little dose of reality for his supporters. Yang has been able to develop a sizable following online and in some political circles, and from a glance on social media, he certainly seems like a strong candidate.

Iowa shows, however, that he hasn’t been able to translate this into real-life voters at the polls, and if he doesn’t have a strong showing in New Hampshire, Nevada, or South Carolina, he may be out for the count.

Finally, Elizabeth Warren ended up finishing third, which puts her in a very odd position. Warren has been teetering on the edge of frontrunner status the entire election, and she even briefly took first place in polling during October, so Iowa seemed like the place for her position to be defined.

However, after the results have been tallied, there still appears to be no conclusive verdict on where she stands. She earned a comfortable enough percentage to earn delegates and be within striking distance of the frontrunners, but not enough to make her seem like a serious threat.

She’s still uncertain, and her real position will have to be determined as the campaign progresses. Fortunately for her, the next primary state to vote will be New Hampshire on February 11th, and New Hampshire is very close to Warren’s home state of Massachusetts, which will give her an electoral edge.

Overall, the Iowa caucuses were an eventful few days that have given us a picture into what’s to come in the Democratic primary, but the election is still far from decided.