IOWA CITY, Iowa—Iowa’s Democratic caucuses on Feb. 3 kicked off primaries across the nation. Iowa’s caucus results are considered a bellwether for who could win the party’s 2020 presidential nomination. They’re the first glimpse at how nominees fare in a real vote, not just in the polls.
The Iowa Democratic Party experienced a major delay in tallying results reportedly due to a malfunction with its new reporting app.
An entrance poll by Edison Research indicated that healthcare was a top issue for 41 percent of caucus-goers. It found that 57 percent supported Medicare for All—replacing private health insurance with a single government plan for everyone.
Two major candidates, U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have advocated for Medicare for All in their campaigns.
Dean Wibe, a music major at the University of Iowa, said, “I come from a relatively … lower middle class income family and medical bills are some of the most expensive things.” Medicare for All was one of the top issues for him, and said he would vote for Sanders at one of the caucuses on campus.
Wibe’s mother works in retail and his father is a teacher. A couple of years ago, his mother was misdiagnosed as having a kidney stone. “She had an operation, which didn’t really do anything, but we still had to pay for the operation,” Wibe said. “And there were a lot of tests that had to be done. There’s a lot of preliminary things that kind of go along with it, [and] staying in the intensive care unit, which is expensive.”
With two kids in college and only one parent able to work for a while, the medical bills were a heavy burden on his family.
Taylor Huber, another University of Iowa caucus-goer, said Medicare for All was a major issue for her. She is diabetic and has an insulin pump.
Her parents’ insurance covers her medical bills, but she’s thinking ahead to when she’s no longer covered by their insurance. Her diabetes is genetic, so it could also be an issue if she has children.
“I’m very fortunate that my parents have the funds. But I’m also very aware that not everyone has that opportunity,” she said. “I have the privilege to be healthy, to be able to stand here. So I feel like it’s my job as a citizen to do it for others.”
Huber said she thinks Warren is relatively moderate and thus has the best chance of making healthcare reforms. Warren’s campaign has not hit as hard as the Sanders campaign on the issue of Medicare for All in the past couple of months.
Huber also feels Warren is a good listener. “When she makes policy, she researches and she goes out the door to hear other people’s stories.”
Sanders had the most support among those gathered at the Iowa Memorial Union caucus on campus. Unlike primaries in other states, where voters cast a ballot, the Iowa caucuses gather hundreds of people in a room and have them physically stand in a part of the room representing a given candidate.
Voters declare their choices openly instead of in a private vote.
The largest group had gathered in Sanders’s corner for the “first alignment.” After the first alignment, some candidates are deemed non-viable; caucus-goers who voted for those candidates get a second chance to stand in a viable candidate’s corner, in the “second alignment.”
Some of the caucus-goers standing in the Sanders section took jibes at those in the Joe Biden section. Only a couple dozen out of the more than 750 at the caucus had stood in Biden’s section.
The process takes hours, and a couple of the Biden supporters left after two hours, before the second alignment. They were among the very few caucus-goers on campus from an older demographic. They said it was taking too long and they were tired.
Edison Research’s entrance poll indicated that about 48 percent of youth (aged 17 to 29) supported Bernie Sanders, and 24 percent of all caucus-goers were in this age group. Sanders also had the most support among the 30–44 demographic, at 33 percent. Pete Buttigieg was most popular among 45–64-year-olds, at 26 percent (Sanders only had 11 percent support in that demographic). The 65+ crowd supported Biden, and Sanders was in last place for their favor with only 4 percent.
Since Iowa’s Democratic caucuses began in 1972, results have shown that candidates who don’t make it into the top three spots in Iowa are very unlikely to win the nomination. Hence the saying there’s only “three tickets out of Iowa.”
The Democratic candidates who have won the caucuses have gone on to win the nomination in seven out of 10 contested races.
About 171,000 people voted in the Democratic caucuses, according to Edison Research. That’s about on par with the 2016 turnout.
The Republican caucuses had a record turnout of approximately 187,000 people. Donald Trump did not face serious competition in the Republican caucuses, so the Democratic caucus results have garnered more interest in the media.