A Cornfield’s Artificial High

How important is the Ames Straw Poll?
Read this.
And this.
Or this.
Ok, I’ll stop now.

It was tough to find anything that actually tried to claim that the straw poll matters. But in the interest of objectivity, I did find this. I’ll let you judge if explaining the Caucus results slightly better than a newspaper poll is worth of this type of media attention, fundraising clout, and (most importantly) voter influence (on those that pay attention).

So, what do these results indicate? What do we know about the past results? If you follow politics, you know that the Iowa and New Hampshire votes are already controversial. Not only are they controversial, but their ability to choose the nominee is shaky.

But we are not there yet. This is a straw poll. On average, attendance at this straw poll represents between 10-30% of the GOP Caucus attendance, depending on the year. The diehards attend the Caucus, the diehards of the diehards attend the straw poll.

So, what do previous results show us? I’m going to go through a few trends. Italics represent a candidate that went on to win the Iowa Caucus; an asterisk is the eventual GOP nominee the next year; and the bold represents an eventual President (two years later):

Straw Polls Winners (1st Place)
1979:   George H. W. Bush            (521 – 36%)

1987:   Pat Robertson                     (1,293 – 33.6%)
1995:   Phil Gramm                         (2,582  – 23.6%)
Bob Dole                               (2,582 – 23.6%) *
1999:  George W. Bush              (7,418 – 31.3%) *

2007:   Mitt Romney                        (4,516 – 31.6%)
2011:   Michele Bachmann              (4,823 – 28.6%)

There have been three GOP Presidents since the first straw poll. Only once has this poll chosen an eventual President. (Unless you count the 1979 poll, which predicted the 1988 result.) Of the 5 eventual Iowa caucus winners, which at least relates back to the straw poll, the straw poll has only chosen 2 of them outright. Of five eventual GOP nominees, the poll has correctly endorsed only 2.
This leaves the percentages for these three important elements of the process: 33%, 40%, 40%.

Straw Poll Runner-Ups (2nd Place)

1979:   John Connolly                       (220 – 15%)
1987:   Bob Dole                                (958 – 24.9%)
1999:   Steve Forbes                         (4,921 – 20.8%)
2007:   Mike Huckabee                    (2,587 – 18.1%)
2011:   Ron Paul                                 (4671 – 27.7%)

Interestingly, the runner-ups really do not garner any success at all. Just as many runner-ups have gone on to win the Iowa caucus as the winners. However, a runner-up has never gotten the nomination and never become President. When you look at the examples of Forbes, Huckabee, and Paul — their entire campaign was about Iowa, so it shouldn’t be all that surprising. There was not an nationwide organization to continue the momentum.

Straw Poll – 3rd Place
1979:   Bob Dole                                (221 – 15%)
1987:   George H. W. Bush       (864 – 22.5%) *

1995:   Pat Buchanan                     (1,922 – 17.5%)
1999:   Elizabeth Dole                     (3,410 – 14.4%)
2007:   Sam Brownback                 (2,192 – 15.3%)
2011:   Tim Pawlenty                      (2,293 – 13.6%)

Straw Poll – 4th Place
1979:  Ronald Reagan              (160 – 11%)
1987:   Jack Kemp                          (520 – 13.5%)
1995:   Lamar Alexander              (1,156 – 10.5%)
1999:   Gary Bauer                        (2,114 – 8.9%)
2007:   Tom Tancredo                  (1,961 – 13.7%)
2011:   Rick Santorum                   (1657 – 9.8%)

Looking at 3rd and 4th place, you have the other two GOP Presidents in the last 30 years. The most popular of them placing 4th in the first straw poll. Neither one of them won the Iowa caucus either. One that point before I conclude the inevitably obvious:

Straw Poll – 10th Place
1995:   Arlen Specter                       (67 – 0.6%)
1999:   John McCain                         (83 – 0.4%)
2007:   John McCain                        (101 – 0.7%) *
2011:   Thaddeus McCotter             (35 – 0.2%)

Many candidates simply ignore Iowa…the entire time. They set up in New Hampshire, South Carolina, or put their stake in Super Tuesday. The last GOP nominee garnered less than one percent in the straw poll, he underperformed in the caucus, surged in New Hampshire, and went on to win the entire nomination.

The straw poll does more to thin out the field than pick out a winner. In the last two cycles, six candidates have dropped out due to their performance. We will wait and see if anything happens in 2011. Does that mean I expect McCotter to win the nomination? Get real.

It does mean that I do give Paul, Romney, Santorum, and Perry just as much of a chance to win the nomination as Bachmann. With the way she is trending, I could see her campaign going down the path of Pat Robertson or Phil Gramm. In 1987, after winning the straw poll, Robertson gathered only 5% of the entire primary votes the rest of the way.

Besides, most of the media today has focused around Rick Perry entering the race. It may forced numerous candidates out. Bachmann now has to go at Perry, as the media attention is suddenly on the two heavyweights in the race: Romney vs. Perry. It was perfect timing for his announcement, unless it backfires. He won’t try to win Iowa, and I would expect the field to concede those delegates to hometown hero, Michele Bachmann. Why bother?

The straw poll has its place; it influences strategy and the internal media.
However, it has no relevance in affecting the final outcome.

About Creed

I often ramble. What some people can eloquently say in 10 words, when most people would take 25, I will intentionally take 100. It's always been this way. This blog is mainly to spare my friends, family, and co-workers from my epic long rants.
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