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Iowa Caucuses: A Primer

The first heat in the race to the White House comes Monday when Iowa's Democrats and Republicans gather to select their choices for U.S. president.

Weather is likely to be the deciding factor for some candidates. Low turnout at the local precinct meetings could skew the results quite a bit.

The two parties have slightly different methods of choosing candidates. Members of the GOP will cast straw-poll ballots; Democrats will elect county convention delegates who reflect their preferences for president.

For those unfamiliar with this Midwest practice, here's a primer on the Iowa caucuses.


  • When: Starting at 7 p.m. ET, Monday, Jan. 24.

  • Where: The Democratic and Republican parties each will hold precinct meetings at more than 2,100 locations across the state, including school classrooms and meeting rooms in libraries, fire stations and other community buildings. A few meetings will be in church basements, banks, grain co-ops, even in living rooms of private homes in the absence of available space in community buildings.

  • Who: Registered voters who are party members, as well as party members who are 17 years old but will have turned 18 by the November election.

  • Format: Democrats will elect delegates to county conventions reflecting their candidate preferences, discuss platform issues, elect leadership for the precinct.

    Republicans will elect leadership for the precinct, hold a straw poll for president, elect delegates to the county conventions, consider platform issues.

  • Weather History: The normal high temperature for Jan. 24 is 31. The low 12. At caucus time, about 7 p.m., the average temperature is 22 degrees. It reached a high of 62 in 1967 and 1981. The low was minus-21 in 1894.

  • Results: The Republican Party of Iowa will use an automated telephone call-in system to tabulate votes, reporting the results from its hub of operations at the Knapp Center at Drake University in Des Moines.

    Democratic caucus leaders will tabulate support for candidates as a percentage of the whole, phoning in results to the Iowa Democratic Party tabulation center at the Hotel Fort Des Moines in downtown Des Moines.

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