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How important are the Iowa caucuses?

With the primary season just about underway, w’re giving you a closer look at some of the contests that could shape the race.

With next Monday’s Iowa caucuses being crucial to Bernie Sanders and the other candidate’s chances of going on in and even winning the race, you might be curious as to how and why this contest in a relatively small Mid Western state has taken on such significance.

Iowa has been selecting its candidates via caucuses since the 1800s (barring trying primaries once in 1916).

The caucuses however did not come to prominence as a first in the nation contest until 1972 for the Democrats (and 1976 for the GOP), with the decision made owing to the relative complexity of the nominating process in Iowa, with caucuses picking candidates for county conventions, which pick district convention candidates, who then pick state convention delegates, who finally pick candidates for the Democratic National Convention.

So more importantly, how good an indicator is performance in the Iowa caucuses of a candidate’s eventual chances? Of the 10 caucuses that have been effectively contested since 1972 (including Ted Kennedy’s challenge to President Carter in 1980), 8 out of 10 winners have gone on to be the nominee, with the exceptions being Iowan Tom Harkin in 1992 and Edmund Muskie in 1972.

On the Republican side however, just 3 of 8 winners in contests have gone on to be the nominee. On the flipside, poor performances have killed off a number of candidates who at time been seen as possible contenders, most recently Martin O’Malley in 2016.

In short, the voters of Iowa hold immense power, and seemingly considerable discernment. A good showing for Sanders on Monday could very well put him on the road to the nomination, as much for the momentum it could create as for the delegates it would contribute.

Meanwhile, second and third tier candidates will be fighting for their lives; A good showing for Amy Klobuchar or Andrew Yang could push them up in the polls and the conversation, but for them and others a poor showing could leave them making other plans for March.

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