Those of us who consider Bernie Sanders to be the best candidate in the 2020 race won in Iowa. We were victorious, having won the popular vote by a margin of over 2500. But, to put it plainly, the establishment robbed us of our victory. History has not been kind to the popular vote: instead, we play by the rules of the Democratic National Convention (DNC), traditional media companies and state delegates. We play by all sorts of convoluted electoral games.
When it comes to state delegates, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is barely the frontrunner, and he and Bernie are practically tied in state delegate equivalents. Remarkably, somehow, Pete has been celebrated as victor. The media began trumpeting a Buttigieg win when only 62 percent of the caucuses were reporting (FiveThirtyEight, “What Did — And Didn’t — Go Down In The Iowa Caucuses,” 02.05.2020). That was a little over a week ago, and more results have trickled in, but 95 precincts are still being recanvassed. The Iowa Democratic Party (IDP) humiliated American democracy. By effectively preventing Bernie Sanders from giving a victory speech in primetime, using untested and possibly biased technology and presuming to be an accurate representation of the United States to begin with, the IDP ultimately made the outcome of the Iowa caucuses vague and confusing to the American people.
To understand how the IDP screwed up the entire thing, we need to know how a caucus works. Unlike a traditional primary that is comprised of private, individual votes, at caucuses people visit their precinct and physically move into particular parts of the room based on whom they want to vote for. Caucuses take place out in the open, and then state delegates are awarded to each candidate according to who, by the end of the night, reaches certain thresholds of support. Another distinctive aspect of the caucus-style vote is realigning, which means that if the candidate you originally set out to caucus for is lacking support, you have the opportunity to realign with another candidate. Hence, the “first” and “final” reported votes are different. As if this was not complicated enough, the results from this year’s caucuses were released over the course of several days (New York Times, “How the Iowa Caucus Works,” 01.31.2020).
It is not the delay itself, but instead the gradual release of these results, that has irrevocably muddied the waters. This is premature of me to say, but good riddance to the Iowa Caucus. As I write this article, the Associated Press still has yet to call a real winner; who knows what information will surface. The Iowa Democratic Party fumbled its one job.
Caucuses are a convoluted, absurd and pseudo-democratic system. This year, approximately 176,000 Iowans turned out to caucus, only a tiny fraction of the 3,156,000 people who live in Iowa (AP News, “‘A Disappointment’: Iowa caucus turnout below expectations,” 02.07.2020). Only people who have access to affordable childcare, do not work evenings (or otherwise can get off work), have transportation and are familiar and comfortable enough with the language of politics to believe that they can make informed choices can constructively participate. Additionally, the right to be private about whom and what you support is central to democracy, a right that was disregarded during the Iowa caucus. This is without even mentioning that several delegates were decided by flipping a coin.
Historically, Iowa Caucuses went like this: People gather at the caucuses, and then they appoint delegates (state-level delegates), then those delegates vote for the national delegates, who in turn vote for the nominee. In total, there are about 6,000 precincts and they (successfully) either phoned or emailed in these results (and this process has worked, every time, every Iowa caucus, except for the one on Monday).
Instead of this relatively simple system, the IDP decided that they needed some form of phone app. This app was created by “Shadow,” a private, for-profit company, to fulfill the simple process of reporting results, like how many raw votes and how many state level delegates each candidate received. This app was practically untested, and new to almost everyone collecting votes in the caucus. This app-based confusion was all combined with the (justified) complication of the new satellite caucuses, which enable remote voting for Iowans who cannot be in Iowa at the time of their precinct’s caucuses.
Shadow is owned by another company, called Acronym, that is comprised of Democratic mega-donors and whose members consistently derided supporters of Bernie (The Intercept, “New Details Show How Deeply Iowa Caucus App Developer Was Embedded in Democratic Establishment,” 02.04.2020). After it became clear that the results would not be released anytime that sweet Monday night, each of the candidates gave a speech that essentially took the form of “Well, thank you to all of my supporters, let’s treat this as a jumping off point for the rest of my campaign!” One candidate in particular, Buttigieg, gave a resoundingly victorious speech. So far, still without any declared winner, Pete has won 564 state level delegates to Bernie’s 562, and the media wants you to know. The Iowa caucuses were pretty undemocratic to begin with and then they were further obscured by this app, leading to a preemptive and unfair victory speech from Pete.
But setting aside the undemocratic nature of the caucuses and the poor execution of them this year, there’s something even more critical at work here, especially when we examine the media’s mania around Pete’s supposed victory: The Iowa caucuses are not telling. For one thing, Pete will lose in states that are not deeply primarily-white, as he does not have a diverse coalition of voters. Pete only has the support of about one percent of Black, Latinx and Asian voters combined. Bernie polls at about 26 percent with the same crowd (Monmouth University, “Monmouth University Poll,” 01.22.2020). If that wasn’t indicative enough, Pete cannot even give an honest, coherent reason to why, when it comes to support from Black voters, he is lacking. Even if you want to ignore Pete’s obvious lack of minority support and instead focus on upcoming primaries, Pete struggles to have boots on the ground while Bernie has a full battalion of supporters who have been canvassing and phone banking away since New Years Day, including a few carloads of Vassar students almost every week.
In the midst of all this Iowa hullabaloo, one benefit of the caucus process stands out to me. Caucuses are public. Which means people and campaigns are comparing notes. Caucuses are harder to cheat, an important point considering the Democratic Party’s previous anti-Bernie bias (ABC News, “The 4 Most Damaging Emails From the DNC WikiLeaks Dump,” 07.25.2016). Every campaign has a precinct captain who takes down the numbers at each caucus. Which means that each campaign is also doing the Iowa Democratic Party’s job and checking their numbers against each other. So, if you care about the numbers, do not fret. They will come out.
I do not have any delusion that this article will have an electoral impact. I’m writing this article because of particular frustrations with the 2020 Iowa Caucus, in the idea that a process like this can even be considered democratic and the spacedout, muddied release of the results. It simply does not make sense. However, these things will continue to happen in this absurd system of the DNC. Especially when a grassroots movement is posing a substantial threat to establishment candidates. Of course this is happening.
As far as I am concerned, the official Democratic Party is letting the institutions that give them legitimacy break down. It is backing middle of the ground candidates, instead of actually progressive candidates with passionate, grassroots movements behind them. Iowa was a mess, which should encourage you to double down on what you believe in. If you are a Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren supporter, you really have to think about what you are doing from this point on. I encourage you to really read Bernie Sanders’ issues page and rally behind the most progressive and electable candidate we have right now.