Understanding the Iowa caucus

February 1, 2016

As the 2016 presidential election enters primary season, voters across the country will participate in selecting a candidate to represent their party in November for the general election. The first electoral event in the nomination process occurs in the mid-western state of Iowa.

What is a “caucus”?

Unlike other states, Iowa voters use a “caucus” (which simply means a meeting or gathering) format to select representatives who will eventually pick the electoral delegates who will travel to the party’s nomination convention to cast votes for the nominee. The earliest stage of the caucus involves voters across 1,682 precincts selecting delegates who will convene at 99 separate county conventions. At these county conventions, the representatives chosen from the first caucus will pick delegates in the same manner. Those representatives who are chosen at the county stage then meet at the state convention to pick the final group of delegates to travel to the party’s national primary convention in November. The “winner” of the caucus is the candidate who garners the most electoral delegates.

Does the Republican Party “caucus” the same way as the Democratic Party?

There is a slight variation between the parties when it comes to the caucus system at the precinct level. Prior to the 2016 election, the Republican Party followed the caucus method explained above, but with one exception: the delegates selected at the caucus were not forced to declare a candidate preference based on the votes that are cast at the specific caucus site. For the upcoming Iowa Caucus, The Republican National Committee has mandated that the delegates selected must declare a candidate preference, meaning that the delegates must proportionally vote in accordance with the votes cast for each candidate at the respective caucus site.

For the Democratic Party, the process is more complicated. The 1,682 precincts divide their seats proportionally dependent on the votes cast by those attending the caucus. The delegates organize themselves in groups to support a certain candidate, while trying to convince other delegates to join their group. The purpose of this method is to give a visual (and numerical) representation of which candidates have garnered significant support to be viable, as determined by the caucus participants. Following this initial period, the count is tallied, and a candidate is deemed viable if they amass at least 15 percent of the delegates. The delegates then have another 30 minute opportunity to realign if they wish. This is important for those delegates who supported an “un-viable” candidate that did not meet the 15 percent threshold in the first period. After this second period of voting is closed, the final tally is taken and the precinct caucus nominates the representatives who will travel to the county caucus. The apportionment of the delegates to each candidate is then reported to the respective state party organization, which in turn passes the results on to the media for reporting.

What is the significance of the Iowa caucus?

February 1st marks the beginning of this multi-step primary process. Despite the complicated nature of the caucus format, Iowa is a significant primary state and a critical first test for the candidates running for both parties. The Iowa caucus reveals which candidate the Iowa voters stand behind. This can dramatically affect the political momentum or perceived advantage that a candidate may have in a national or local poll. The Iowa caucus also serves as a signal to the other voters in both parties as to which candidate the party base believes to best represent their values.

Nevertheless, the Iowa caucus is not always determinative of the final candidate a party will choose in November at the general election. In 2008, for instance, the democratic caucus in Iowa selected Barack Obama (with 37 percent of the vote), who eventually became the party’s nominee. That same year however, the republican caucus selected Mike Huckabee, who did not become the Republican Party nominee in the general election. In 2012, Senator Rick Santorum from Pennsylvania received the greatest percentage of delegates in the Iowa caucus overall but did not win the nomination of the party in the general election.

In short, the Iowa caucus is the first stop on the journey toward an eventual nominee for each party. The overall political effect that the Iowa caucus may have remains to be seen. The 2016 presidential election is different than any of its predecessors, understandably. Over 30 candidates entered the presidential race on the Republican side alone. Less than half of those made it to the top-tier debates. In addition to former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, six other candidates have entered the presidential race on the Democratic side. Who the Iowa voters will choose is still anyone’s guess.

In a political season rapidly approaching its climax, Iowa will be the first of many states to select a candidate who may represent the party in November. Traditionally more conservative and evangelical than the other early primary states such as New Hampshire and South Carolina, the Iowa caucus will provide insight on which candidate most voters from that region identify with. Whether or not the Iowa caucus winner will break precedent and become the party’s nominee, which in the Republican Party has not happened in over a decade, is also a question yet to be answered.

While there is a great deal of unanswered questions surrounding this year’s election, one thing is clear: the Iowa caucus will finally give voters their first opportunity to respond to the months of political campaigning and debate that has energized an entire nation.

Taylor LaJoie

Taylor LaJoie is a Research Fellow at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24