The first Iowa Caucus took place in 1972, but the caucus tradition started more than a century before that.
The word caucus is a North American Indian word, thought to be of Algonquin origin, meaning a gathering of the ruling tribal chiefs. The modern definition describes caucuses as a process of political party members gathering to make policy decisions and to select candidates.
Some form of caucus has existed since the early 1800s, even before Iowa became a state in 1846. Developing from the congressional and legislative caucuses, the pioneers of the Iowa constitution chose caucuses rather than a primary to nominate candidates, preferring the grass-roots democracy-in-action approach.
In the early 1970s, the Iowa Democratic Party made several reforms to their delegate selection process. These reforms include requiring a minimum of 30 days between the precinct caucuses and the county, district and state conventions, and publicizing the events to allow more people to take part in the process.
When the 1972 Democratic State Convention was set for May 20, the new rules dictated that the precinct caucus would be January 24th, thereby making it the first statewide test for presidential candidates in the nation.
In 1976, recognizing the increased exposure, the Republican Party of Iowa moved their caucus to the same date as the Democrats. The candidates and
National media have observed the Iowa Caucuses as the “first in the nation” ever since.
The Caucuses are held in Iowa every two years. Caucuses held in the off-presidential years are usually smaller and focus on the party platform. The caucuses that coincide with presidential elections are better attended and receive more media attention.
Any voter who is a registered Republican or Democrat, and can prove residency in Iowa, can participate in the caucus of their party.