Since the Iowa Democratic caucuses are a representative democracy, not a straight one person one vote, not every caucus goer carries equal weight. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and especially Martin O'Malley have spent a lot of time in small courthouse towns, because the way the results are counted, the small counties weigh in disproportionately.
An analysis of 2008 caucus attendance shows that, on average statewide, it took just under 96 people to elect a state delegate equivalent, up from 41 caucus goers per to elect a state delegate equivalent in 2004. But this year, unlike 2004, no place is more than double or less than half the state average.
Some counties are full of go-to-meeting activists while others have more rank and file voters.
The easiest place to elect a delegate was Osceola County, where it took 59.67 attendees per state delegate equivalent. The bottom ten is filled with small, rural, GOP leaning counties, with the curious exception of Clinton.
And once again, the hardest places to elect state delegates were campus counties. In Winneshiek, home to Decorah's Luther College, it took 138 people to elect a state delegate equivalent, 2.3 times as many as in Osceola. Johnson County, the hardest place to elect a delegate in 2004, is narrowly behind Winneshiek at 134 bodies per state delegate equivalent.
Put another way: A "vote" in Osceola County is worth more than twice as much as getting out a Luther undergrad.
But it's worth noting that with the turnout surge almost everywhere in 2008, the range between counties is narrower than it was in 2004. In that year it took 79.2 people to elect a Johnson County delegate, nearly twice the state average and almost four times the level of Fremont County, where 22.3 caucus goers translated into a state delegate.
The top ten of hardest places to elect delegates were college counties including Story and Jefferson (Fairfield) and high growth suburban areas like Dallas and Warren counties. And, oddly, a couple of the most Republican places in the state, Page and Sioux counties. I didn't even think there WERE 743 Democrats in Sioux County.
High growth makes it harder to elect a delegate from your county. A voter who moved to Dallas County three years ago won't count in the county's presidential vote totals used to calculate delegates, because they voted somewhere else. A voter who moved in after the gubernatorial election wouldn't count at all toward the delegate count.
The flip side is, people in shrinking rural counties who moved away or passed away still contribute to the county's delegate allocation, meaning it takes fewer LIVE bodies to win delegates..
The caucuses take place in a mythical, projected version of a general election voting population, because caucus apportionment is based on votes for the top of the ticket. In 2008 the counts were based on votes for John Kerry in 2004 and Chet Culver in 2006; likewise this year's counts are based on Obama `12 and Jack Hatch.
This means candidates can't run up the score with big wins in big counties, and it mutes the impact of isolated turnout waves. Whether 30 students or 300 show up in Iowa City Precinct 5 (all dorms and frat houses), the same six delegates are at stake.
Ultimately, the apportionment rules mean candidates have to carefully allocate their resources and fight on all fronts at once, and part of that allocation is making the effort where the most bang for the buck is available -- the small towns.
|Rank||County||Attendance||State Delegate Equivalent (2008)||Attendees Per Delegate (2008)|
|Total||239872||2500||- average 95.95|