Here's a primer on how the Iowa GOP caucuses work. One difference from the way the Democratic caucuses operate is that everyone can cast a ballot for whomever they want by writing the name down and putting it in the ballot box. For Democrats, they have the two...-step process wherein you form groups for each candidate and only those groups that have above the minimum get voted on. So if your preferred candidate doesn't get enough minimum support, you have to go join another preference group. They're allowed to entice you with hot chocolate and cookies to join their group. It's a strange system. If a state has to have a caucus, I prefer the GOP system where you have a secret ballot and can vote for your choice without having to worry if there are a minimum number of other voters for that choice at your particular precinct. But overall, I find the caucus system very unappealing. It discriminates against those who don't have the time to spend a couple of hours showing up to vote at a specific vote and time. What about people who work the night shift or have small children and no sitter.
We're usually told that the benefit to Iowa going first is that these voters will spend the time meeting the candidates and judging them. But this year, it is the televised debates that seem to have been the main factor in determining who is up or down in the Iowa polls. The candidates who have spent the most time and effort in Iowa, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, are having a hard time cracking into the top tier so personal encounters don't seem to be playing the role that they usually do. Last time, John McCain won the caucuses without spending any effort to win in Iowa. As Michael Barone pointed out, the Iowa caucuses aren't predicative of much at all, at least not for the GOP. And if Ron Paul wins here next week, it will be one more bit of evidence of how unreasonable it is to attach any sort of electoral importance to the whole Iowa caucus system.
The funny thing is that it is the media who have created this monster. If they paid little attention to the results, we would all be better off. And their reporters wouldn't have to be spending their holiday season in Iowa. It would be a win-win, but the media just can't help themselves and so we'll probably be pooh-poohing Iowa caucuses for decades to come. It's a glum prospect.