Iowa: First In the Nation for 42 Years

Sep 24, 2014

Since 1972, the Iowa caucuses have been the first significant hurdle for presidential hopefuls from both parties.

But, why Iowa? And how did the caucuses become so influential?

Continuing Iowa Week coverage, this River to River segment includes analysis on the Iowa caucuses from several political scientists who give us an inside tour of one of the most media-saturated campaign events in American politics.

Joining the discussion are panelists: Donna Hoffman, Department Head and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Northern Iowa, Caroline Tolbert, Political Science Professor at the University of Iowa and author of Why Iowa?, and David Yepsen, Director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, and former political writer at the Des Moines Register.

Tolbert says the Iowa caucuses are important, because they provide an "in" for otherwise underdog candidates, including Jimmy Carter in 1976, Barack Obama in 2008, and Rick Santorum in 2012.

“Starting with Iowa challenges the candidates...because of this face-to-face politics we demand,” says Caroline Tolbert. “Because this is difficult on the candidates and it requires more from Iowa citizens…we often get unexpected outcomes.”


Editor’s note: All this week, Sept. 22-27, on Iowa Public Radio’s talk shows River to River and Talk of Iowa, we’re exploring some unexpected things about the state as a part of Iowa Week, a series meant to highlight and uncover the things that make Iowa, well, Iowa. What do you think is unexpected? Tweet at the hashtag #IowaWeek or send your notes to our talk show team at