President campaigns are costly operations, both in terms of finances and manpower, so it behooves candidates to make sure their aspirations to higher office match the interests of the American people to vote them into it. One of the best political litmus tests for candidates is an early straw poll conducted in a state considered representative of the country's current political climate. The benefits of gauging voters early has led to the significance of Iowa in American politics.
Although the state of Iowa is not guaranteed to be one of the first states to hold a primary election, both major political parties have historically agreed to make it so. Other states are free to adjust their own primary election dates accordingly, but Iowa voters truly enjoy the privilege of being early primary voters and having a significant bearing on the campaign process.
One reason for the significance of Iowa is the general demographics of the state. Iowa is clearly in the middle of the United States both geographically and philosophically. Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, religious and non-religious alike live side-by-side in Iowa. Unlike certain other states, Iowa's overall political bent is not seemingly fixed in stone. Farmers and factory workers who traditionally vote for Democratic candidates often share the same basic principles as business owners and conservatives who tend to vote for Republican candidates. Many Iowa voters tend to vote for the person, not necessarily the political party.
The significance of Iowa is often recognized by fringe or low-profile candidates early in their campaigns. If Iowa voters fail to recognize their names on the ballot or express concerns about their electability or controversial stances, a few candidates may drop out of the race entirely. Those candidates who fare better in the Iowa primaries may get a better read on where they need improvement or what issues are most appealing to voters in other states.
The role of Iowa in American politics is not exactly a spoiler, since the Iowa primaries are held so early in the race. The true significance of Iowa is the diversity of opinions and the political savvy of its citizens. While many people may view Iowa as a largely agrarian state with a relatively sparse population and little political influence, serious presidential candidates all recognize the real significance of Iowa voters. It would not be unusual for a farmer in Iowa to ask a candidate a very complex question on a world-level political issue during a small town hall meeting, for example. Iowans take their roles as early voters very seriously, and they pride themselves on scrutinizing presidential candidates thoroughly.