Jan 11, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Sub-zero temps and snow make turnout a wildcard at Iowa caucuses

A Trump yard sign in Des Moines. Photo: Rachel Mummey/Bloomberg via Getty

Temperatures aren't expected to crack 0°F in Des Moines during caucus day on Monday, and "life-threatening blizzard conditions" over the weekend could make any final campaign stops all but impossible.

Why it matters: Turnout is always the x-factor in elections, but that's particularly true at the Iowa caucuses. In some rural precincts, as few as 10 people can make a big difference.

  • "Turnout is absolutely everything for all of the candidates," says Starlyn Perdue, GOP chair for Pottawattamie County, on the western side of the state. "You can't just have one person show up, you want to have multiple people show up and spread the message for that candidate."
  • Perdue isn't expecting the polar vortex-induced cold snap to have a big impact on turnout locally, telling Axios rural areas like hers are "used to it."
  • She says volunteers plan on getting to caucus sites early to ensure areas are cleared of snow. She'll be heading out herself in her four-wheel drive pickup truck.

State of play: This isn't any ordinary winter storm, however.

  • The National Weather Service expects total snowfall leading up to Saturday to rival some of the biggest five-day totals ever recorded for Des Moines.
  • The high temperature in Des Moines on Monday is forecast to be minus 1°F. On Monday night, temperatures are expected to drop quickly, aided by deep snow cover, plummeting to minus 14°F.
  • Wind chills throughout the day will be in the dangerous range of the minus 20s°F, if not lower.
  • Monday and Tuesday are forecast to be the two coldest days of this Arctic outbreak, which comes courtesy of an oscillating polar vortex, combined with other weather features.

What they're saying: Polk County GOP Chair Gloria Mazza still expects a "really decent turnout" in her area, which is home to Des Moines and its metropolitan area.

  • She recommends people bundle up, but notes that all of the caucus sites are indoor locations like churches and city halls.
  • Turnout across the state could be impacted, Mazza says. For example, she notes that an older voter in a rural area who may have to drive farther to caucus might feel unmotivated to do so, particularly if their candidate is already far head or isn't expected to win.
  • Local Democratic political consultant Jeff Link told Axios the frigid temperatures could dampen turnout among Trump supporters who assume he's already ahead.

Former President Trump, Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy were all forced to cancel events this week due to the weather.

  • Haley, who is battling Florida Gov. Ron DeSenatis for a top-two finish in Iowa, joked Thursday that "I don't even know what negative 15 is," adding: "I was complaining that it was cold in Iowa in October."

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