Return to Nicholas Johnson Opening Web Page

Return to Nicholas Johnson's "Another Iowan for Kucinich" Web Page

Iowa Caucus Evaluation

Nicholas Johnson

Kucinich4President Yahoo! Group
Message 21094 of 21094

From:   "Nicholas Johnson" <njohnson@i...>
Date:  Tue Jan 20, 2004  10:37 pm
Subject:  Upbeat Iowa Caucus Evaluation by Iowa Graybeard
(Revised January 21, 24, 26, 2004)








Let me give you the perspective of an old Iowa graybeard with Iowa caucus experience over decades.

I see nothing in the caucus numbers that give me anything other than continued enthusiasm for Dennis Kucinich and his continued efforts.


There are great, democratic advantages to the Iowa caucus system over a primary. Neighbors actually come together, to work together in the most basic process of selecting a candidate and drafting a platform.

Our nation is stronger, and better governed, as a result of the Iowa caucuses. It will be the worse if they are ever abandoned.

But let there be no mistake: the way the system works there is a very heavy skewing in support of the leading candidates, and against those with less support.

Indeed, Dennis could have had as much as 14% of those in attendance at each of the 1,993 precincts and today's press would report simply (because those are the only numbers made available to them) that he received zero delegates.

You see, you need 15% of the attendees at any given precinct caucus (and you can only attend the caucus in the precinct where you live and vote) "in order to play the game." (The game is electing delegates from your precinct to the county convention -- although these are translated into a number of "state equivalent delegates" for reporting to the media, an even  smaller number than the number of county delegates actually elected.) And that's only the "entry fee." The candidates' supporters go to corners of the room to see how many they have. Less than 15% of all who are present and your group, your candidate, is not "viable." What that means is that all the, say, Kucinich attendees, then have no options but to (a) go home, (b) join another candidate's group, or (c) try to organize enough "undecided" attendees to compete for a delegate to the county convention designated as pledged to "undecided." No matter how enthusiastic Dennis Kucinich's supporters may have been, if they were attending a caucus at which they ended up not being "viable" they were simply not counted, or reported, in any way whatsoever as having been there for Dennis.

And 15% may not be enough. If your precinct has four delegates you need closer to 25%; two delegates and you need closer to 50%.

So, if your candidate's supporters come into the caucus as 30-50% of the attendees it doesn't make so much difference exactly how many you have. But if your candidate's supporters come in with 5-20% it makes an enormous difference.


Given the way the caucus system works, our dedicated but limited staff, organization, money and other resources, relative lack of TV commercials, and media coverage, I think Dennis' ability to get delegates in nearly one-third of Iowa's 99 counties is an enormous accomplishment.

Consider: Clark, thought by some to be a frontrunner nationally, said he was "not running in Iowa." And yet he had lots of active support in Iowa, including yard signs in my home town, and local groups of volunteers. How many counties came up with delegates for Clark? He got absolutely no delegates in 91 of the 99 counties!

Consider: Lieberman, also "not running in Iowa," but once considered a leading candidate nationally, and one with significant support in Iowa, was able to produce exactly zero delegates from any county.

Ditto for Sharpton. Nada. Not one delegate.

Does that help to put all of this in perspective for you?

Dennis got 25% of the delegates in my precinct. He got 29% of the delegates in one county. He got 7.3% in my county (which made our county 2nd or 3rd in the state). He picked up some delegates in 28 of the 99 counties. He came in fifth in a field of eight.

Given the way the caucus system is structured (rigged?), the resources of the other candidates, and what we were able to do, I think this is an enormous accomplishment on Dennis' part.

Some pre-caucus national and state polls over the past few weeks have put Dennis' support at 1-3%. Clearly, he did many multiples better than that in the Iowa caucuses, measured by number of caucus attendees (rather than committed county convention delegates). See highlights from entrance polls, below, indicating that percentages from 7% to 17% of various groups attending the caucuses supported Dennis.

Moreover, we circulated statewide proposed platform planks that reflected Dennis' major positions.

There is no way to know, at this point in time, how many were proposed, let alone adopted, in the 1,993 precints. But in my precinct all the 8 that were proposed were unanimously adopted. That is yet another indication of the impact Dennis' has had on this state and this Party.


For some of the reasons just explained, the forthcoming primaries will be a much better test of Dennis' strength than the Iowa caucuses, especially as other candidates have begun dropping out. In a primary every vote counts; the primary election results are the most accurate "poll."

What do the newspapers' 1-3% poll results mean (even if accurate) when there is a field of 9 or 10? Do they mean that there is nothing more than a hard core of 1-3% of Americans willing to support Dennis and the policies and programs he advocates? Or will it prove to be the case that, as the field narrows, Dennis' share of the electorate will continue to increase?

We'll soon be finding out the answer to that question, starting in New Hampshire. But we are, as we must be, prepared for those results to vary markedly from state to state -- turning on everything from the strength of local organizations, to world events, to the weather. There will be ups, and downs.

What we already know are the District of Columbia results. In a heavily African-American area, running against the then 30-40% frontrunner, Dean, and two African-American candidates (Sharpton and Braun), Dennis received not 1%, 2% or 3%, but 8% of the vote. That fact (like his third place finish among Wisconsin Democrats months ago) received very little media attention, but I think it is quite significant.

So far three have dropped out: Graham, Braun, and today Gephardt. There will be more.


Whether or not Dennis becomes the Party's nominee, his contribution to our nation through this campaign is not so much his candidacy, as such (as impressive, commendable and inspiring as that may be), as it is the impact of his spirit upon the American people, the stark contrast he brings to the policy discussions, his ability to move the candidates, and the nation, on the issues he espouses, and the spiritual core from which he presents them.

I have spoken for Dennis on occasion, at events he was unable to attend. I have introduced him (most recently at a major event yesterday afternoon). I have listened to him dozens of times, and I never fail to be moved and inspired by what he says, how he says it, and the spiritual person he is. My reaction is shared by the others present -- as it was yesterday. Many of you have had that experience.

You know who else is now talking about "UN in and US out" of Iraq? George Bush (though he really doesn't "get it"). You know who else is now talking about "universal health care" (though what he is proposing is nothing of the sort), and the need to include "workers rights, human rights and environmental quality" in trade agreements (though he's not yet willing to "repeal NAFTA and the WTO")? Dean. Who's talking about two Americas? Edwards. On issue after issue, expression after expression, Dennis is shaping the dialogue, and national policy, merely by running.

I am extremely proud of this man. Today more than ever.

But his, ours, is a long, slow, difficult road. It is a calling of a lifetime, not merely a presidential campaign. Let us take our example from the peace walkers, crossing this country on foot to demonstrate their support of Dennis. (Talk about "a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step"!)

It is an honorable and noble thing we do.

We are all in the debt of Dennis Kucinich for making the greatest sacrifices of all with his leadership and his exausting undertaking of a presidential campaign. Nothing any of us do can come close to what he has done.

He is on his way and so are we. Let us be about it, each in our own way.


Nicholas Johnson (with link to "Another Iowan for Kucinich")


Some highlights from entrance polling data include the conclusions that, among Iowa caucus goers, Dennis had won the support of:


* Since writing this piece, the Kucinich campaign's Steve Cobble has shared with me results of an "entrance poll" sampling of Iowa caucus goers conducted by a consortium of news organizations prior to the January 19 Iowa caucuses. It is available in full at


Since originally posting this piece, there have been a number of inquiries regarding the actual numbers from the Iowa caucuses. What I would like to find, and be able to share, would be a site containing the actual county delegates selected, for each candidate, for each of the state's 1,993 precincts. While I haven't given up the search, and there are still a couple of leads, that information has certainly not been easy to find. (Jerry Depew subsequently provided me this Excel spreedsheet file that contains, if not the numbers by precinct, at least the numbers of county delegates elected for each candidate in each of the 99 counties, posted here March 12, 2004.)

Here's what I do know about.

A county example. Tom Slockett, Johnson County Auditor, is one of the most progressive county auditors in the country. His site, at, would be a good model, in general, for any auditor. Among the resources he provides is a breakdown of the caucus results for each of the precincts in Johnson County, "Johnson County Democratic Caucus Results," at

This is what it would be nice to have, in composite form, in one online location, for all 99 counties. I assume there are auditors' offices in Iowa counties in addition to Johnson that have posted their results on a Web site. But I would guess that, even if one were willing to take the time to try to track down each of the 99, many are not available.

Recall that all that was actually selected at each precinct were delegates, from that precinct, to that precinct's county convention, for each of the presidential candidates who were both "viable," and ultimately had enough supporters to qualify for a delegate. Thus, numbers regarding "state equivalent delegates," let alone delegates to the national convention, are made up and speculative.

From you can eventually find the percentages of state equivalent delegates received by each candidate, and the fact that a total of 122,290 attendees showed up at the 1,993 precinct caucuses.

Given that the caucuses are a political party undertaking, and not a state governmental function as such, it is not too surprising that the Iowa Secretary of State, with responsibility for elections, at, offers no numbers. (It would, however, be a very thoughtful and useful function for that office to perform.) It is surprising that the Iowa Democratic Party's offering, at, is somewhere between slim and none at all. (The Party does provide an "Iowa Delegate Selection and Affirmative Action Plan," at

The best source I have been able to find, so far, is the Des Moines Register, at There are two Web pages.

One, "Iowa Caucus Results," at, provides, for each candidate, what the Register's chart calls "votes," which are that candidate's state equivalent delegates, and "delegates," which are that candidate's Democratic National Convention delegate equivalents. (Thus, while these are phony numbers, they are at least numbers rather than percentages.)

The other, "Democratic Caucus Results County by County," at, indicates, for each county, the total number of attendees at that county's caucuses (i.e., not by candidate), its number of state equivalent delegates, and each candidate's percentage (presumably of those state equivalent delegates).

I appreciate that all of this does not answer the questions that many of you have put to me, but hopefully it may provide more than the information you now have.