A couple thousand "nobles sauvages" and nerdy savants from across the republic are letting loose this weekend.
OK, for the record, Bernie Sanders has a chance to do the same thing, but the way the Iowa Caucuses are set up makes it more likely that this dubious victory would come down in Hillary Clinton's favor.
Here's why: The Iowa Caucuses are not a popular vote election. Think of each of Iowa's 1,681 precinct caucus sites as a bunch of tiny states in an electoral college setting. Every four years, each precinct is given a preset number of delegates, but instead of it being based on the total population of the precinct, it's based on how many Democrats voted in recent presidential and gubernatorial elections.
This is where it gets interesting. Like the rest of the nation, 2014 was a notoriously low-turnout election for Iowa Democrats. The Democrats who did vote, skewed older, more conservative, and more likely to vote for Hillary. In addition, there are many precincts that might have a lot of people that voted Democrat, but for whatever reason don't participate in the caucuses.
Let's say we have two precincts-- A and B-- that are very different demographically, but because their 2012/14 democratic voter tallies were approximately the same, each was allotted two delegates by the party. On caucus night, it doesn't matter how many people show up at precinct A or B, both will only be to have a hand in selecting two delegates that night-- even if 200 people show up to precinct A and 20 people show up to precinct B.
In 2008, this scenario played out somewhat to the detriment of then-Senator Barack Obama. He was still able to win, but it’s likely he actually won by a larger popular vote margin than the delegate count that was reported caucus night.
Take Johnson County, for example. It's home to the University of Iowa and has the state's largest proportion of people who vote Democrat. On the 2008 caucus night, 18,363 people showed up to participate in Johnson County's Democratic caucus. That comes out to 7.7% of the 239,872 people who showed up to vote statewide on caucus night. Obama ended up winning 52% or 71.7 of 137 delegates allotted to Johnson County, to John Edwards' 24% (32.85 delegates) and Hillary Clinton's 20% (28 delegates).
However, even though 7.7% of the voters came from Johnson County, they were only able to select 5.5% of the delegates, leaving in the lurch thousands of people who effectively didn't have their vote heard.
In other words, in areas like Johnson County and other areas where the number of people that showed up was higher than delegates allocated (usually higher-populated areas), Obama's vote was under-counted, which in turn meant that in less populated areas Hillary Clinton’s and John Edwards’ votes were over-counted. In a state where Obama won 40 of the more populated counties and Hillary Clinton and John Edwards won the remaining 59 counties that tended to less populated, this setup has the potential to give some voters a greater voice than others.
In 2016, it’s fair to say that Bernie Sanders will likely have a similar base of support as Barack Obama had in 2008, Hillary Clinton will have her same base as 2008, and the two will split the rest.
The polls say that this thing is going to be close, and that paints a very likely scenario where Hillary Clinton could narrowly win the Iowa caucus with delegates while losing the popular vote.
Tom Slockett, Johnson County Auditor and Elections Commissioner from 1977 until 2013, concurred. "It would seem logical to assign additional delegates to precincts where caucus night attendance has reached designated thresholds," said Slockett. "This is not rocket science."