The Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary were the first two preliminary elections to occur in the United States. These elections not only set the tone of the race, but contribute to selecting the nominees for the general presidential election scheduled to take place on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.


The difference between a primary and caucus is often misunderstood. Primaries involve secret ballots being cast, practically the same way the general election works. There are two types of primaries: open and closed. Open primaries allow registered voters to vote outside of their party, and closed primaries require voters to vote within their party. On the other hand, caucuses involve voters gathering in their districts to raise their hands, or gather in groups, to show support for a candidate. It is an open process, compared to the more private primary process. Both result in awarding candidates with a number of delegates based on the percentage of votes they received.


Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute in Washington D.C., explained that “states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, which have heated primary races, also tend to have high voter turnout during presidential elections” (24/7 Wall St). Because of the high turnout, the full report of results takes longer, often resulting in an announcement of predicted winners before they are finalized and confirmed. Even though the polls close at 8 pm, anyone in line before then is allowed to participate, which therefore postpones the conclusion of the primary or caucus.


The Iowa caucus occurred on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, as registered party affiliated voters gathered to show their support and vote for the candidate of their choice. Chris Weigant, a writer for The Huffington Post, predicted that “Bernie Sanders [would] narrowly [beat] Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side, while Donald Trump [would win] the Republican race, followed by Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio” (Weigant). Weigant was not alone, as many other people shared the same predictions that ultimately were incorrect. Clinton, with 49.9% of the votes, and Cruz, with 27.6%, were declared the caucus winners of their parties, despite there being less than a one percent difference between Clinton and Sanders (The New York Times).


Immediately following the Iowa caucus, Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley, and Republican candidates Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum suspended their campaigns due to the lack of votes they received. They were too far behind the frontrunners to continue on the campaign trail.


The New Hampshire primary took place only a week later on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. New Hampshire is known for being an extremely politically active state, always “[taking] their primary responsibilities seriously” (Charlotte Observer). Even though “Trump and Sanders [were] prohibitive favorites . . . the state is historically unpredictable” (Charlotte Observer). Snapchat created a nationwide Story feed for New Hampshire’s residents to share their posts in as the rest of the country followed along. Many of its residents commented on the primary through the feed, saying it considered a “holiday” in New Hampshire among its people. Ultimately, most residents were spot on with their predictions: Sanders celebrated his victory over Clinton with 60.4% percent of the votes, the largest reported margin in U.S. history (Gass & The New York Times). Trump won on the Republican end of the primary with 35.3% of the votes, with John Kasich in second, and Cruz right behind him.


Since the New Hampshire primary, Republicans Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie have also suspended their campaigns. The remaining candidates up for the party nominations include Democrats Clinton and Sanders, and Republicans Trump, Cruz, Kasich, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, and Jim Gilmore.

The next stop on the campaign trail for the candidates is Nevada for the Democrats, and South Carolina for the Republicans. More information about the 2016 election results and schedule can be found here.

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