Inside Sources Explainer: Why Iowa matters in the race for the White House

Aug 23, 2023, 1:38 PM

FILE - In this March 8, 2019 file photo, an audience member arrives at a rally for 2020 Democratic ...

FILE - In this March 8, 2019 file photo, an audience member arrives at a rally for 2020 Democratic presidential candidate at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa.(Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press)

(Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — If you’ve ever wondered why politicians focus on Iowa as the presidential election process begins, here’s the answer. Jimmy Carter (more on that in a moment).

Another answer?  Being first in the race for the White House matters.

And Iowa is the first state to hold presidential caucuses — at least for Republicans next year, who will hold their lead-off presidential caucuses in the Hawkeye State on Jan. 15, 2024.

The winner of the Iowa caucuses traditionally gains the lion’s share of media attention as well as financial support from donors. And something about Iowa leads to winning — according to The Economist, every Democratic primary candidate who’s won in Iowa since 2000 has become the Democratic party’s presidential nominee.

This week, on KSL NewsRadio’s Inside Sources, host Boyd Matheson investigated what was learned from recent focus groups held in Iowa. You can listen to the complete segment below.

Why Iowa?

After a tumultuous 1968 Democratic convention, the Democratic National Committee decided it needed to open up its nominating process to lessen the power of party leaders and involve more grassroots activists. In the same spirit of inviting more people into the election process, Iowa “revamped their caucuses” according to Kathie Obradovich, former opinion editor for the Des Moines Register.

This led the state to “start the party early,” Obradovich said. And by choosing an earlier date, in 1972, Iowa became the first in the nation to hold presidential caucuses.

She also said that it wouldn’t have mattered much if the media and candidate handlers hadn’t noticed. But they did. Winning in Iowa granted an almost automatic boost in name recognition and popularity (because, first is first).

In 1976, Obradovich said that Jimmy Carter “used the early caucuses as a springboard” onto the national stage. Carter was an unknown, but he won that election. And the win has kept Iowa in the spotlight ever since. 

Why not Iowa?

Notably, after five decades of doing so, Democrats voted in December 2022 to skip Iowa as the first state on the presidential calendar. Instead, they selected South Carolina where, on Feb. 3, 2024, they will hold their first presidential primary.

Part of the move away from Iowa came after top Democratic Party leaders pushed to begin picking a president in states that are less white and reflect better the more diverse nature of the party’s makeup, according to the Associated Press

Who is Iowa?

  • Iowa voters are split nearly evenly between Republicans/leaning Republican (41%) and Democrats/leaning Democrat (40%).
  • For Iowa voters, 30% of Democrats are between the ages of 18 and 29, but only 14% of Republicans are in the same age range.
  • 55% of Democrats in Iowa are female whereas 56% of Republicans in the state are male.
  • 31% of Iowa Democrats earn less than $30,000/year but only 20% of Iowa Republicans are in the same income bracket.

Take a closer look at the voters in Iowa.

The winner of each caucus or primary picks up delegates, which represent their state at the party’s national convention. The candidate who collects the most delegates becomes the party’s nominee for the presidency.

The first Republican presidential primary debate is scheduled for Aug. 23 at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee and is hosted by Fox News.

Contact Utah elections officials if you have questions about voting or elections in the Beehive State.

Other reading:

Inside Sources with Boyd Matheson can be heard weekdays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

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Inside Sources Explainer: Why Iowa matters in the race for the White House