The traditional winner—the Democrat who receives the most delegates—will be able to boast the best organizing strategy in Iowa. But it’s about more than just delegates, Dockendorff said. “There’s going to be somebody who’s going to be able to say, ‘Look, we had 1,000 more people show up to the caucuses for us. Obviously we’re the strongest,’” she explained. And the candidate who ends up with the most total supporters after the realignment—when voters from unviable groups find a new group—can brag that he or she has built the broadest coalition of support, or has the most persuasive organizers.
Releasing three results “could be a huge problem,” Steffen Schmidt, a political-science professor at Iowa State University who has taught classes about the caucus, told me. Being able to spin any combination of results into a win will make it easier for candidates to stay in the race through New Hampshire and beyond, even though the Iowa contest typically serves as a way to winnow the primary field. “I don’t get why, instead of transparency and simplicity, the party has gone deeper into great complexity and resulting confusion,” Schmidt said. Other caucus leaders are worried too. I talked with Reyma McCoy McDeid, an activist in Des Moines who is running a satellite, or remote, caucus for voters with disabilities, about what she expects on caucus night. “Oh, God,” she said with a laugh. “In 2016, there were three candidates, and it was mayhem. We have how many candidates now? … Caucus night is going to make 2016 look like a cakewalk.”