Iowa Caucus: 5 key facts

There are only four more days until Iowans begin gathering for the Iowa caucus, the first event in the nomination process of the Republican presidential candidate. 

Polls show former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney leading, with Ron Paul following behind. Rick Santorum has climbed to third place, while Newt Gingrich's support has fallen.  

How much emphasis should we give the Iowa caucus? 

Republican presidential hopeful Jon Hunstman seems to think it's not as important as we'd like to believe.  

On Thursday, during CBS' The Early Show, Huntmsan reiterated his reasons for skipping campaigning in Iowa, by announcing, "They pick corn in Iowa, and pick presidents here in New Hampshire,"

How smart was it for the former Utah governor to throw the zinger at the Hawkeye state? 

Here's a run-down of things you should know about the Iowa caucus.

5. The Iowa caucus is the first major political event in the nomination process of both parties. For this reason, it's viewed as an early indicator of the merits of different candidates running for their party's nomination.

However, some analysts say it is a flawed leading indicator for the Republican party. As the New Republic points out, in the last five caucuses without an incumbent Republican president, the Iowa winner has only won the nomination twice (Bob Dole in 1996, and George W. Bush in 2000).

4. Iowans have used the caucus process since Iowa became a state in the 1840s. All 1,774 precincts in Iowa hold a Republican caucus, and they are usually held in public buildings such as school and libraries.

3. All caucuses will begin at 7 p.m. Central time on Tuesday, Jan. 3. Each precinct caucus can follow its own rules, but the GOP caucuses don’t work like regular elections, in which voters stand in line and file into booths. Instead, caucus workers will hand out "ballots," which are usually slips of paper on which voters write a candidate's name.  Different precints use different rules with differing levels of secrecy regarding how voters hand in their ballots, but the caucus chair announces the winner at the precinct after the votes are tallied.  

More from GlobalPost: Santorum surges, Gingrich falls behind in Iowa

2. Here's what you should know about Iowa's demographics versus that of the rest of the US.  Of Iowa’s 3 million people, about 90,000 are farmers, and of those, 48,737 list farming as their principal occupation, the Washington Post reported. ABC News reported that, according to the 2010 Census, the state is 91.3 percent white, while the country is 72.4 percent white. Only 2.9 percent of Iowans are African American, as compared to 12.6 percent in the US as a whole, and people of Hispanic or Latino origin make up only 5 percent of the state, compared with 16.3 percent across the country. 

1. While you have to be a registered Republican to vote in the Iowa caucus, it's pretty easy to register (and re-register) before the caucus. Discounting independent voters is a common error of pollsters. Nate Silver at The New York Times' FiveThirtyEight blog points out that "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."


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