It's Tuesday, January 3, 2012. Yes, the year is now 2012. Please turn that page on your calendar/diary.
And because it's January 3, 2012, a presidential election year here in the United States, that means today, the first Tuesday of the election year, we're having the Iowa Caucuses.
The 2012 Iowa Caucuses will be held this evening in churches, schools, and other gathering places across thousands of locations in Iowa in order to start determining the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates for the 2012 US presidential election.
For those of you who live outside these United States, who don't know what that means, allow me to try and explain, because Iowa is somewhat different from most standard primary elections used in other states.
In Iowa, the caucuses are a process whereby "gatherings of neighbors" occur across each of Iowa's 1,774 voting precincts. Rather than simply casting polls and ballots, they gather in these locations (at schools, churches, public libraries, and even individuals' homes) to discuss and choose presidential candidates, as well as begin writing their parties' platforms by introducing resolutions.
In Iowa, caucus-goers elect delegates to county (as opposed to national) conventions, who then in turn elect delegates to district and state conventions (who THEN choose national delegates).
All participants in caucuses must be registered with a party, but they can change their registration at the caucus location. Also, 17-year-olds can participate, so long as they turn 18 by the time of the general election.
Because President Obama's selection on the Democratic ticket is a fait accompli this year, we'll do a deeper dive on the Republican caucus process.
In the Republican caucus, votes are cast by secret ballot. Voters are given blank sheets of paper with no candidate names, then after listening to some campaigning for each candidate by caucus participants, they write their choices down and the Republic Party of Iowa tabulates the results at each precinct and transmits them to the media.
As for the number of delegates, because there are 13 delegates for the Congressional district, plus 12 statewide, plus 3 Republican National Committee members who are also delegates, makes for a total of 25 elected delegates (don't worry, the math didn't add up for me, either) out of a total of 2,286 national delegates. But again remembering, they're not really chosen this evening, but at the county and state conventions down the road.
So that's what all the fuss is about.
If you really want to know what's going on and want to follow the math closely, you have to read Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight blog.
My projection: Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum are neck in neck in the 19-21% range, but the surging Santorum pulls just far enough ahead to take the Iowa caucus cake. But hey, it's Iowa, who the heck really knows until the votes start coming in later this evening.
For all the opportunities to criticize it, the Iowa Caucus is still the first polling that matters in the US presidential primaries, first also meaning it's very influential in shaping the outcome yet to come in the other 49 states by potentially reshaping the field of candidates.
So for those reasons alone it's worth paying close attention to!