The Iowa caucus results are in, but do they really matter?

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The Iowa primary results, which were set to be released Feb. 3, were delayed from their original release time due to technical errors. Under immense pressure to release the outcome, the Democratic National Committee published 62 percent of the results. Three days later, they finally had the complete version.

Obviously, this did not go over well with the public, and the credibility of the caucus results went way down. This was not a good look for Iowa as just a few weeks earlier the gold-standard pre-Iowa caucus poll also had problems with reporting errors. 

After the DNC released the incomplete results, the surprising front-runner Pete Buttigieg took to social media to celebrate his win. My favorite response that resulted from this news came from the Capitol Hill Books twitter account, which tweeted, “Just read 62 percent of this novel and we’re so excited for Gatsby and Daisy.” At the time, I thought this a pretty good representation of why Buttigieg may be wrong to celebrate before receiving the complete results. Turns out, I was wrong, but not in the way I thought. 

After delaying the complete primary results due to “quality control checks”, the DNC finally released the complete results. But when they did, news sources seemed no more confident that they were correct than they had Feb. 3. The numbers just didn’t seem to add up.

The results showed Buttigieg in first place with 26.2 percent of the vote and 13 delegates. Bernie Sanders, who is a front-runner on a national level, followed closely behind with a 26.1 percent vote and 12 delegates. The most surprising result from the caucus was Joe Biden, who polled fourth on the Democratic side at only 15.8 percent. On a national level, Sanders has a polling average of 27.0 percent. 

So, what went wrong? 

Before we delve into that, it’s important to understand how the Iowa caucuses work. In most states, voters go to ballots for the primaries to cast votes. In Iowa, voters gather at local caucus meetings to discuss candidates in detail with others before voting on them. 

Upon arrival, Iowans choose their “first alignment” or initial preference. Based on these results, candidates who receive less than 15 percent of “first alignment” votes are deemed not viable, and their supporters have a chance to choose another candidate to support, called the “final alignment.” At the next step in this complex process, each precinct allocates county delegates based on their final preference. These delegates are reported as “state delegate equivalents” and it is then determined how many delegates each candidate will have at the Democratic National Convention this summer to vote for the party’s nominee. This year, the nomination will be won by whoever can win over 1,991 delegate votes at the convention. 

What happened this year was that the DNC decided to introduce a new phone app that volunteers could use to record Iowans votes. In the hectic rush of the primary, it seems as though some of the reporters failed to record some votes and allowed voters to enter after the “first alignment” had been recorded. Additionally, frustrated voters began posting their ballots to social media, forgetting the phone number reserved for Iowan voters to call in their vote was at the top of the ballot. Consequently, out-of-state trolls began calling in themselves and interfering with the data. These errors resulted in percentages that did not add up. In some polling reports, the wrong number of delegates were attributed to candidates. 

While there is a very good chance that the winners of the skewed Iowa caucus do not represent the voting patterns of Democrats in the rest of the nation, news sources fear that the results of the Iowa caucus will cause a sort of “self-fulfilling prophecy” in the following primaries. Meaning that, if voters see that Buttigieg won in Iowa, they might be more likely to vote for him in their primary rather than following their gut instinct. 

During the democratic debate last Friday, the results of the Iowa caucus heavily influenced the conversation. The debate was held in New Hampshire, where the next primaries will be hosted Feb. 11, and Buttigieg and Sanders, the front-runners in the Iowa primary results, were hit the hardest by criticism from reporters and the other candidates on stage. 

The RNC did not have the technical issues the DNC faced. On the Republican side, Donald Trump polled at 97.1 percent and attracted 39 delegates. Bill Weld polled at 1.1 percent and gained one delegate. Joe Walsh polled at 1.1 percent as well, but with no delegates. The “other candidates” category on the ballot received 0.5 percent of the Republican vote, showing that not all Republicans are fully set on a candidate yet. 

All in all, it’s important to remember that this year’s Iowa caucus results don’t really mean anything. What will mean something is Super Tuesday (March 3) when Texans get the chance to vote in the primaries. I encourage you all — if you haven’t yet — to register to vote. 

Thanks for reading my political column and, as always, feel free to leave your thoughts, comments, and questions below.