Why are the Iowa caucuses held on MLK Day?

A pedestrian walks past a sign.
A pedestrian walks past a sign for the Iowa caucuses on a downtown skywalk in Des Moines in 2020. Iowa’s Republican Party will hold its caucuses on Martin Luther King Jr. Day for the first time in 20 years.
(Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press)

While millions of people across the country reflect on and celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, Republicans in Iowa will be helping choose their party’s presidential nominee.

The Iowa GOP didn’t consider the overlap with the federal Martin Luther King Jr. holiday when its central committee voted unanimously to set the date, state party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said last year.

A party spokesperson later told the Associated Press that the committee had indeed previously discussed the fact that the caucuses would fall on the holiday. Asked about the date this week, a spokesperson said the party had no additional comment.


“As Republicans, we can, I, we see this as honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King in terms of having a caucus here,” Kaufmann said last July.

The caucuses don’t begin until 7 p.m. local time, but some Iowans have already adjusted their holiday plans to accommodate the election event. The Sioux City chapter of the NAACP moved its annual MLK Day celebration to Sunday, the Sioux City Journal reported.

Iowa caucuses are historically the first event of a presidential election year, held eight days before the New Hampshire primary. The dates vary year to year, occasionally taking place the first Monday in February or as early as Jan. 3.

The last time the caucuses landed on Martin Luther King Day was in 2004, when Democrat John Kerry won Iowans’ support.