What to expect in the Iowa caucuses | AP Election Brief

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Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump reacts after speaking at a rally at Des Moines Area Community College in Newton, Iowa, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – After months of campaigning, the Republican candidates vying to unseat President Joe Biden in November will face their first formal test at the ballot box in the Iowa caucuses on Monday.

The Hawkeye state once again kicks off the presidential primary season, at least on the Republican side, where former president Donald Trump seeks his first win in a contested Iowa caucus against an ever-shrinking field of candidates that includes Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, among others.

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At stake in the caucuses are Iowa’s 40 delegates to the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee this summer, and perhaps more importantly, bragging rights and momentum heading into the New Hampshire primary the following week.

Polling in the state has shown Trump with a substantial lead, with DeSantis and Haley in a tight race for second place. The caucuses could cement Trump’s status as the overwhelming frontrunner, but they could also reveal opportunities for other candidates if he fails to meet expectations. For DeSantis and Haley, even if they don’t win outright, a strong second-place caucus performance could establish them as the leading alternative to Trump.

Iowa often has a winnowing effect on the field, nudging underperforming candidates out of the race. In the 2016 Republican caucuses, 2008 caucus winner Mike Huckabee and 2012 winner Rick Santorum both ended their campaigns shortly after their ninth and eleventh places finishes.

The Republican caucus process closely resembles a party-run primary. Voters cast a ballot for their preferred candidate, and those votes are tallied. There is no formation of groups or elimination of candidates who don’t reach a certain percentage of the vote. Those were features of Iowa’s Democratic caucuses through 2020, although the party has abandoned those practices for 2024.

Trump placed second in the 2016 Republican caucuses, receiving 24% of the vote compared to 28% for Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Trump initially congratulated Cruz in a concession speech, but later said Cruz “stole” the election and demanded a revote.

Here’s a look at what to expect on Monday:


The Iowa Republican caucuses will be held on Monday, January 15. The caucuses begin at 7:00 p.m. local time, which is 8:00 p.m. ET. Iowa Democrats will also hold caucuses that day, but they will meet only to conduct party business and will not hold a presidential preference vote.


The Associated Press will provide coverage for the Iowa Republican caucuses. The race for the GOP presidential nomination will be the only contest on the ballot. There is no set list of authorized candidates, meaning that caucus-goers may vote for any candidate they prefer. The state party will track votes for Ryan Binkley, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who ended his campaign Wednesday night, DeSantis, Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, Trump and “Other.”


Only Iowa residents who are registered Republicans and will be 18 years old by the November general election may participate in the GOP caucuses. However, Iowans who are not registered to vote or are registered with another political party may still participate in the GOP caucuses if they register or change their party affiliation on caucus day at their precinct caucus location. Voters may only participate in the caucus in their home precinct and must be there in person.


Proportional by statewide vote with no threshold. Statewide caucus results will be used to determine how many of Iowa’s 40 Republican National Convention delegates each candidate has won. Delegates are allocated to candidates in direct proportion to their share of the statewide vote. Unlike some other states, Iowa delegates are not allocated by congressional district, and candidates do not have to reach a certain vote threshold in order to qualify for delegates.


The AP does not make projections and will declare a winner only when it’s determined no scenario would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap.

The AP will declare a winner in the Republican caucuses based on its analysis of tabulated vote data, aided by an analysis of AP VoteCast, which will survey Iowa caucus-goers in the days leading up to and through caucus day, and other available vote and demographic data.

If the race has not been called, the AP will continue to cover any newsworthy developments, such as candidate concessions, declarations of victory or announcements from caucus organizers. In doing so, the AP will make clear that it has not yet declared a winner and explain why.

AP will also explain when it has determined who will place second in Iowa, as the order of finish might have an impact on the shape of the race.

Trump received 24% of the 2016 caucus vote against a historically large field of candidates. He carried 37 of the state’s 99 counties, compared to 57 for caucus-winner Cruz and five for Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Polling suggests the former president enjoys a far broader and deeper base of support heading into the 2024 caucuses.

If the 2016 results offer any clues, it may be in the state’s metropolitan areas, where Trump fared the worst eight years ago. Trump placed third in the state’s most populous counties, including Polk, Linn, Story, Dallas, Johnson and Black Hawk. Strong wins by Trump in those counties on Monday would be an indication that he has since won over Republicans who didn’t support him in 2016, just as he’s consolidated his support among the party establishment throughout the country.

In traditional primaries, AP does not declare a winner in any race before the last polls are scheduled to close in the contest. It’s sometimes possible to declare a winner in those races immediately after polls close, before any vote results are released. AP does so only when its VoteCast survey of voters and other evidence, including the history of a state’s elections, details about ballots cast before Election Day and pre-election polling, provide overwhelming evidence of who has won.

The Iowa caucuses are different. There are no polls to close. Instead, there is an 8 p.m. ET deadline for voters taking part to arrive at their caucus site, at which point deliberations among caucus-goers begin behind closed doors. Some caucus sites might complete their business in a few minutes, while others can take some time to determine the outcome.

While AP and other media organizations treat the hour that caucusing begins as the equivalent of a “poll closing” time, there’s an important difference. In a primary, that’s the moment all voting is complete. At the Iowa caucuses, that’s the moment it begins.

For that reason, following past practice, AP will not make a “poll close” declaration of the winner of Iowa’s GOP caucus on Monday night. Instead, AP will review returns from caucus sites across Iowa and declare a winner only after those results, along with VoteCast and other evidence, make it unquestionably clear who has won.

Severe weather and its impact on voter turnout may be a wildcard in the race. There is no recount or challenge provision for Iowa’s Republican caucuses.


As of Jan. 2, there were more than 752,000 registered Republicans in Iowa, about 34% of the state’s 2.2 million registered voters.

The last contested GOP caucuses in 2016 had the highest turnout in the event’s history, with about 187,000 votes cast, or about 29% of registered Republicans at the time. The 2012 GOP caucuses had a voter turnout of almost 122,000, or about 19% of registered Republicans. Turnout in the 2008 GOP caucuses was almost 119,000, or about 20% of registered Republicans.

Caucus-goers must attend their precinct caucus meeting in person to vote for a presidential nominee. Early or absentee voting is not permitted, except for a small handful of overseas and military votes the state party has allowed to be cast by mail.


The length of the caucus meetings will vary from location to location, with most lasting about one hour to 90 minutes. Caucuses in some precincts have lasted up to three hours. However, voting for presidential candidates will be one of the first items of business at every caucus site, with votes counted and announced at each precinct immediately afterward.

In the 2016 GOP caucuses, the AP first reported results at 8:32 p.m. ET, or 32 minutes after the caucuses convened. The caucus night tabulation ended at 12:50 a.m. ET with 99.9% of total votes counted.

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