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How the Iowa Caucuses Work

The road to both parties’ nominations for president officially begins in Iowa, in elementary school libraries, high school auditoriums, and community centers across the state.
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Pollster Ann Selzer’s Iowa Caucus Primer

No matter who’s still lined up in the cold to get in, the doors to caucus sites—1,681 Republican, and 1,681 Democratic—across the state of Iowa will close at 7 PM on Monday, February 1. Thus begins an evening of participatory democracy quite unlike the casting of a simple ballot. 

The process differs for each party, but in both cases, says Iowa pollster J. Ann Selzer, “a caucus is a commitment of time.” And Iowans take it seriously. “It is something you don’t do for laughs—it’s a meaningful commitment of time, energy, and, in some cases, your soul,” says Selzer. 

Here’s how it works for each party.

1. Candidate representatives give speeches.