Iowa Caucus History: 1968 Creates Need for Change

Following the protests at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, a group of Iowa Democratic party operatives moved to restructure the process of selecting local delegates for the national convention. They chose to start this new delegate selection process early in 1972, making Iowa the first-in-the-nation.


Convention Speaker: "As I look at the confusion in this hall and watch on television the turmoil and violence that is competing with this great convention for the attention of the American people..."

David Yepsen: "The Chicago Democratic Convention is where these early caucuses really started."

Yepsen: "The Chicago Democratic Convention tore the party apart. It was over Vietnam."

Mayor Richard Daley: "What are we coming to as a society? What are we coming to as a country?"

Convention Speaker: "And with George McGovern as President of the United States we wouldn't have to have Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago."

Yepsen: The anti-war people were protesting. The party had a horrible convention, riots in the streets, it looked bad, it eclipsed Humphrey's speech.

Walter Mondale: "The Vice President was a candidate along with the rest. We were dealt with the same as they were. And we won I think in a convention which is as fair as any has ever been."

Yepsen: "After the election, the party decided we've got to change the way we nominate candidates, we've got to open up the process."

Richard Bender: "I mean, we're first-in-the-nation because we sort of fell into it. If there had been a formal, like national party decision, I'm very doubtful Iowa would have ever ended up where it was."

In the aftermath of Chicago, a band of Iowa democratic operatives moved to restructure the process of sending delegates to the national convention, a path of reform. Young staffer Richard Bender was tasked with developing the new system. But the concept was centered around electing delegates fractured by issues like the Vietnam War and abortion.

Bender: "I think it was a pure accident. Just remember, when the original proposal went to this little group of four, we weren't even thinking you have to divide by candidate."

Bender devised a method to prevent splintering factions of voters from dividing into insignificantly small issue groups, a process never intended to test presidential candidate by ability.

Bender: "The congressional districts that year were going to elect seven national delegates in most of the districts. One-seventh is 14.28%. The round number is 15. And the minimum level of 15% was born."

The 15% threshold for the Iowa Democratic Caucuses still reigns more than 40 years later, and has spelled doom for countless candidates failing to break through on the Iowa countryside. And the band of democratic operatives chose to start the delegate process early in 1972, so early it made Iowa first-in-the-nation.

Excerpt from "Caucus Iowa: Journey to the Presidency," Iowa PBS, 2016


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