Ever wondered why presidential candidates go to these four states first? It’s caucus and primary time.

Early on in the nominating process for the DNC and Grand Old Party, four states set the stage for the race to Commander-in-Chief. This all occurs ahead of the day known as “Super Tuesday” (March 1st), when most states in the Union hold their primaries.

So far, on the Democratic ticket, Gov. Lincoln Chafee, Sec. Hillary Clinton, Gov. Martin O’Malley, and Sen. Bernie Sanders are the declared candidates running for the nation’s highest Office.

On the Republican ticket, Dr. Ben Carson, Sen. Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Gov. Mike Huckabee, Gov. George Pataki, Sen. Rand Paul, Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Marco Rubio, and Sen. Rick Santorum have declared their candidacies.

Candidates are already campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada–and that targeted focus will continue for each candidate until early next year, when voters in those states cast their early primary votes, providing the first reported indications of who will most likely become the two new presidential nominees from the major parties.

The 2016 Presidential Primary Elections take place in the following order:

Monday, February 1 – Iowa Caucus (Dem)

Tuesday, February 2 – Iowa Caucus (GOP)

The first “voting events” of the Presidential season are the two Iowa caucuses (not cauci). This convoluted, archaic process by which a candidate is selected for Iowa’s delegates is simplified here; but, for our purposes, let’s just focus on the issues. While it’s still early to forecast the results of the Democratic caucus, the polls show that the race for the Democratic Presidential Nominee is NOT close.

A critical issue up for debate in Iowa will be the environment. Last month, 188 scientists and researchers from across the state gathered in Iowa to prepare to ask the presidential candidates one simple question: “What will you do about climate change?”

This primary season will differ from previous ones in that most of the candidates have a much longer track record of supporting existing and proposed policy solutions to climate change, records they can actually discuss. On the table for discussion may be the proposed EPA regulations on carbon emissions from power plants, the agreements that came out of the Paris climate talks in December, and the Production Tax Credit, which gives tax breaks for renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.

Tuesday, February 9 – New Hampshire

This primary, also known as the “first-in-the-nation” primary (technically, true), is organized by the state board of elections, rather than by each of the state’s political parties, like in Iowa. Candidates that do well in this primary, regardless of how well-known they are before the vote, typically receive a surge of media attention and an influx of cash. Those who do poorly frequently drop out of the race.

Race and community-police relations are a huge topic of conversation around the entire country. Candidates may have a tendency to downplay these conversations, as most voters in New Hampshire are white and more educated than the country overall. Still, it’s unrealistic to assume that the New Hampshire political stage will proceed without discussion of urban unrest and systemic discrimination: “You can walk into a room with 30 people in rural New Hampshire, and you will get a question like that. People study these issues and are much more knowledgeable than people give them credit for,” said Rogers Johnson, treasurer of the Seacoast branch of the NAACP.

Saturday, February 20 – South Carolina

The “first-in-the-south” primary often serves as a tie-breaker between candidates who are neck-and-neck after the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. This state usually selects the candidate who goes on to be the nominee; though this streak was broken in 2012, when South Carolina went for Newt Gingrich.

A critical issue in South Carolina, like in Iowa, will also be the environment… but in a different respect. Amid much controversy about the environmental impact of drilling for oil in the arctic, South Carolina voters show overwhelming support of the proposed drilling, despite the risks of harming the environment. 63 percent of South Carolina voters are flat-out in favor of drilling, while only 25 percent directly oppose. This poses a SERIOUS problem for candidates, especially in the Democratic primary.

If one of the most important issues to Iowans is climate change and the environment, and one of the clearest winning messages in South Carolina is arctic drilling… how are progressives going to walk that tightrope? What long-term damage could a self-contradiction do if in Iowa, a candidate is concerned about the environmental impact of drilling… but they’re not when they get to South Carolina? Let the “flip-flop” comments commence.

Tuesday, February 23 – Nevada Caucuses

The young Nevada Caucuses started in 2008, and will give the West an early say in the nomination process, immediately following the South Carolina primary. The caucus process is run similarly to the Iowa caucus: by the state parties, rather than by the State.

In Nevada, political drama has recently centered on the hot-button issues of abortion and gun rights. Candidates from both parties will have to navigate the controversy around two bills currently sitting in the Nevada Statehouse. One would require parental notification for girls receiving abortions. The other would allow concealed carry on campuses.


After these four states weigh in, 12 more will hold their primaries, all on March 1st–which is why it’s dubbed the name “Super Tuesday.” Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia will enter their decisions on this day.

Ohio’s primary will be taking place a week later on March 8th, which is largely why we won’t find ourselves the target of much political campaigning until the primaries are over and the candidates have been chosen.