Former Utah Governor Jon Hunstman has campaigned as if Iowa isn’t as important as the national (and Iowa) media would like the country to believe. Last Thursday, Huntsman announced his reasons for skipping campaigning in Iowa on the CBS Early Show, from his campaign headquarters in New Hampshire: "They pick corn in Iowa, and pick presidents here in New Hampshire.” The question for Huntsman and all the candidates is just how important the Iowa Caucuses will prove to be as the first test of 2012. Here's a list of eight things you may not know about the Iowa Caucuses.
The Iowa caucus is the first major event in the nomination process of both parties. It’s viewed as a bellwether indication of the support of various candidates simply because it’s the first major test. Iowa's position holding the first major primary event of the year has been threatened in various ways by other states, particularly this election cycle when New Hampshire discussed moving its primaries into December after Nevada planned on inserting its caucuses into January (Nevada later relented and moved back to February 4).
Residents listen as Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, campaigns at Elly's Tea and Coffee House in Muscatine, Iowa, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2012.
Some analysts argue that Iowa is a flawed leading indicator for the Republican party. In the last five caucuses without an incumbent Republican president, the Iowa winner has only won the nominationtwice (Bob Dole in 1996, and George W. Bush in 2000). Iowa GOP Caucus winners who did not end up with the nomination include Mike Huckabee in 2008, Bob Dole in 1988, and George H.W. Bush in 1980. Yes, it's true: the revered Ronald Reagan did not win the 1980 Iowa Caucuses.
A pedestrian walks past satellite uplink trucks parked outside of the Polk County Convention Center in Des Moines, Iowa, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012, as the news media set up for coverage of the Iowa Caucus results Tuesday evening.
Iowans have used the caucus process since Iowa became a state in the 1840s. All precincts in Iowa (1,774 of them) hold a Republican caucus, primarily in public buildings such as school and libraries. The Iowa caucuses came to national prominence in 1972 thanks to a series of articles in the New York Times about non-primary states like Iowa. Iowa’s Democratic caucus in January of 1972 kicked off an especially turbulent nominating process when Edwin Muskie beat George McGovern (McGovern eventually won the party’s nomination).
Walter Mondale waves during his victory celebration in Des Moines, Iowa, Feb. 21, 1984, after winning the most delegates in the Iowa Democratic caucuses. His wife, Joan, is behind him. Others are unidentified.
All caucuses will begin at 7 p.m. Central time on Tuesday, Jan. 3 and last up to two hours. Unlike regular elections, in which voters stand in line and file into private booths, the Iowa Caucuses begin with participants receiving ballots, which are generally small slips of paper on which voters write a candidate's name. Various speakers representing candidates will advocate for their preferred choices, and then voters make their selection and hand in their votes. The caucus chair announces the winner at the precinct after the ballots are counted. The “group” nature of the caucus has been criticized for creating social pressure for participants to vote in blocs based on the persuasiveness of particular speakers or simple peer pressure.
Unlike primaries, including the first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire, national delegates are not awarded for each candidate. The results of the Iowa Caucus produce delegates to county conventions, who in turn elect delegates to district and state conventions where Iowa's national convention delegates are eventually selected. Ironically, Iowa is actually one of the last states to formally choose its delegates since Iowa's state convention is held after the nation's primary and caucus season is complete.
Republican presidential candidate, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, speaks during a campaign stop at Valley High School, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2012, in West Des Moines, Iowa.
You do have to be a registered Republican to vote in the Iowa caucus; however, it's pretty easy to register before the caucus. According to Nate Silver at the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog, discounting independents is a common error of polling ahead of the caucuses. “It's extremely easy for independent and Democratic voters to register or re-register as Republicans at the caucus site. Historically, a fair number of independent voters do this."
Iowa’s demographics do not match the rest of the country. According to the 2010 Census, 91 percent of Iowans are white, while the country is 72 percent white. Only about 3 percent of Iowans are AfricanAmerican, as compared to 13 percent in the US as a whole, and people of Hispanic or Latino origin make up only 5 percent of the state, compared with 16 percent across the country. More than 60 percent of the GOP caucus participants identify as Evangelical Christian.
A volunteer makes phone calls on behalf of Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at his campaign headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2012.
Of Iowa’s 3 million people, only 119,188 people participated in the 2008 Republican caucuses, representing just 4 percent of all Iowans. Even among Republicans, participation is low, with only about 20% of GOP registrants participating in the Caucuses. Compare this to New Hampshire, where turnout exceeded 50% in the 2008 primaries. Because of generally low turnout, even small factors like the weather can greatly influence final results.