The Iowa caucus was held on January 15, 2024 (Credit: CC-By-SA-2.0)

The race for the US presidency kicked off in earnest with the Iowa caucus on January 15, 2024. Over 110,000 Republican voters braved the frigid weather and dangerous driving conditions to vote for the candidate they believed was most qualified to run for president in the November elections.

Former President Donald Trump secured a resounding win with 51 percent of the votes. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis came in a distant second with 21 percent. Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley was third with 19 percent, followed by businessman Vivek Ramaswamy at 8 percent.

Former President Donald Trump won the majority of the votes (Credit: Al Jazeera/ CC-BY-SA-2.0)

Iowa Democrats also held a caucus on the same day. However, they asked voters to choose their candidate by a mail-in ballot. The results will be revealed on "Super Tuesday." Scheduled for March 5, 2024, it is the day when the greatest number of states hold their primaries and caucuses. But since President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are running again, the outcome of the Iowa caucus will not impact the presidential race.

What is a caucus?

In most US states, residents vote at conveniently situated locations. However, in Iowa and a handful of other states like Nebraska, Wyoming, and North Dakota, voters must attend a caucus. The term refers to a meeting of members from a particular party to select candidates or decide policy.

On Monday, Republicans held over 1,600 such gatherings in various Iowa churches, town halls, and schools. Each meeting began with the candidate or a representative giving a short speech to convince undecided voters. Members were then asked to vote for their favorite candidate. The outcome of each caucus was added, and the winner was announced shortly after.

Why is the Iowa caucus important?

Winning the Iowa caucus does not bring the candidate any closer to being the official presidential nominee for their party. Delegates, representing voters in each state, will make that decision this summer at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions.

However, a win or loss in Iowa can make or break the aspirations of a presidential hopeful. Experts believe this is partly because the Iowa caucus is the first real indication of a candidate's popularity. Failure to do well in Iowa and the New Hampshire primary elections, scheduled for January 23, 2024, often causes them to lose the support of their financial backers. Additionally, the extra press and media coverage gives winners the opportunity to sway the opinion of undecided voters.

The US presidential election will be held on November 5, 2024 (Credit: US Department of State)

But the biggest impact of the Iowa caucus is that it helps reduce the number of candidates. Those who do poorly here usually withdraw and endorse another candidate. That certainly was the case on Monday. Shortly after the results were announced, Ramaswamy suspended his bid for the Republican nomination. He asked his supporters to vote for Mr. Trump.

Do Iowa winners always clinch their party's nomination?

Iowa has a mixed record for choosing the final nominee for each party. Since the state held its first caucus in 1972, only three of the eight Republican candidates to win the caucuses have also garnered the nomination. Democratic winners have had more success. They have been selected as the presidential nominees in seven of the 11 competitive elections.

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