The national media received what it had requested, and now it wants to blame the Iowa Democratic Party for not having the media’s information quick enough. For years, national and local media have yearned for raw numbers from the Iowa Democratic Caucuses. There was a reason why previous caucuses did not release raw numbers. They actually have no relevance. This year, a delay in providing information became news itself rather than the news the media is seeking.
Before you criticize the Iowa Caucuses, you should know a little about them. That’s most of the problem; representatives of media know little about them. You can read the manual, you can sit through one and experience it, but unless you are a precinct captain for a campaign, a caucus chair or secretary, or party leaders coordinating 1600 events, you can’t imagine the heavy task at hand.
The New York Times, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, CNN, the Des Moines Register, and every news outlet around the world cannot talk or write about the Iowa Caucuses without using the word “vote”. Let’s make it clear that not one Democratic presidential candidate left Iowa with as much as one vote. Iowa’s Democrats don’t vote in caucuses except to elect a caucus chairperson, secretary, precinct committee people, and a slate of delegates. Oh, yes, and there is a vote taken to adopt planks that will eventually become the party platform, the original purpose of neighborhood caucuses. Iowa Republicans do vote. However, as Kevin Cooney mentions in his Des Moines Register op-ed of February 4th, it doesn’t mean very much because the real election comes later in the caucus, after most people have left, and it’s an election for delegates.
Democratic caucuses are mini-conventions. Delegates are selected to advance to the next convention level, and delegates are chosen by those individuals who share the same slant on policies as the person they want to represent them. Many delegates are chosen based upon the volunteer work they have donated to a particular candidate. A candidate’s precinct captain is most likely to become at least one of the delegates to move on to the next convention, whether it’s county, district, or state, and the captain is known to most of those in the preference group. A caucus-goer “aligns” with a candidate. Those aligning with a particular candidate vote for the delegate to represent them at the next level in the process – not the candidate.
Another way to look at a caucus is to compare it to a ballot petition. You may sign a petition for a candidate to get on the ballot, but your signature is not a vote. Likewise, if a candidate’s group must contain 20 people to be viable, and the group can come with only 5 eligible participants, it’s like not having enough signatures on a petition to get on a ballot.
Caucuses differ from primaries in several ways, but a caucus is actually more democratic. Listening to news media, you would think that it’s the other way around. However, there is no disenfranchisement in a Democratic caucus because there is no vote (except as mentioned above). Primaries, on the other hand, give citizens the opportunity to vote for a presidential candidate, but not the people in their neighborhood who are going to be leaders in their local politics. As former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neal loved to state: “All politics is local.” But not in primary states where you have no real discussion about who will represent you in party affairs that have meaning for your county, city, and state. You can’t connect the candidate with the delegate.
On the day after the Iowa Caucuses, Meet the Press Moderator Chuck Todd said that there are too many numbers to digest. That is part of the media’s problem. It wants results, numerous results, and it wants them now. Wouldn’t you rather settle for accurate results instead of quick inaccurate results? Isn’t that what the media wanted in 2016? And in 2012? And in 2008? And in . . . . It wanted the numbers of the first alignment, the second alignment, and the final delegate count. Now that it has those numbers, it’s complaining about those numbers.
What goes around comes around. Keep the caucuses. Whether Iowa precincts select particular delegates to its county, district, and state conventions, who just happen to be supporting a particular candidate, should be irrelevant. It’s politics at the grassroots level – not the level desired by the media. At least the Democratic neighbors will know that they have a long-term voice, not just a fleeting vote.