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Iowa straw poll: A primer

Republican presidential candidates pose for a photo before the start of the Iowa GOP/Fox News Debate at the CY Stephens Auditorium in Ames, Iowa, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011. Pictured from left to right: former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum; businessman Herman Cain; Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney; Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.; former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty; former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. AP

The Iowa straw poll is an event that resembles that of a state fair where Iowans vote in a straw poll for Republican presidential candidates. The first one took place in 1979 ahead of the 1980 election cycle. This year, it is being held in Ames on the campus of Iowa State University.

The "straw poll" is not really a poll in that it is unscientific and not representative of Iowa voters and only expresses the preferences of those attending the event. The results of the straw poll may be an indicator of the strength of a candidate's campaign, but they have no binding effect on the presidential nominating contest.

High stakes for GOP contenders at Iowa straw poll

Ballot and voting:

Nine candidates will be on the straw poll ballot this year:

1. Michele Bachmann
2. Herman Cain
3. Thaddeus McCotter
4. Tim Pawlenty
5. Ron Paul
6. Rick Santorum
7. Mitt Romney
8. Jon Huntsman
9. Newt Gingrich

  • Six of the nine candidates have bought tent space and will likely provide food and entertainment for attendees. These six will also speak on the main stage at the event. They are Bachmann, Cain, McCotter, Pawlenty, Paul and Santorum.
  • For the first time in Iowa straw poll history, attendees will be allowed to cast write-in votes this year. So other candidates (and non-candidates) could receive some votes.
  • There are some rules. In order to vote, one must be at least 18 years of age on or before November 6, 2012, and be a legal resident of Iowa. Voters will have to show photo identification before receiving their ballots.
  • In order to prevent participants from casting multiple votes, after a voter casts a ballot, his or her index finger will be marked with indelible ink.
  • And the event isn't free. It costs $30 per person to attend.
  • Voting ends at 4 p.m. Central Time and results will be announced by the Chair of the Republican Party of Iowa, Matt Strawn, at the event.
  • The Iowa Republican Party has not said how many tickets have been sold. In 2007, 14,302 straw poll ballots were cast -- down from 23,685 in 1999.

Past straw poll winners:

Mitt Romney, who is not participating in the event this year but is on the straw poll ballot, won the Iowa straw poll in 2007. Despite that win, he went on to lose the Iowa caucuses to Mike Huckabee, and neither Romney nor Huckabee became the Republican nominee. The Republican nominee, John McCain, essentially skipped both the straw poll and the Iowa caucuses.

The only candidate to win the Iowa straw poll and then go on to win the presidency was George W. Bush.

Here's how past straw poll winners have fared:

Chart - Straw Poll 1979 - 2007
Straw Poll 1979 - 2007 CBS

Full results from past straw polls:

Chart - Straw Poll 1995 - 1999 - 2007

Source for past results: Republican Party of Iowa

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