Confirmed: The Ames Straw Poll is Useless

January 4th, 2012 at 8:33 am | 9 Comments |

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We have just received yet another confirmation of the virtual uselessness of the Ames Straw Poll. The proud winner of the straw poll, and Michelle Bachmann came in sixth in the Iowa caucuses (and in fact finished dead last among all serious contestants–Jon Huntsman just ignored Iowa). Furthermore, she only managed to win just slightly more votes in the caucus than in the straw poll, even though the turnout was seven or eight times greater!

In the four and a half months between the straw poll and the caucuses she, unlike some other fellow candidates, did not have a brain freeze in a debate, was not accused of any sexual misconduct, did not have a barrage of negative ads targeted at her and did not have any other obvious reason for a dramatic collapse of her support in the state.

The winner, Mitt Romney received an eight times greater share of the vote in the caucuses than in the straw poll (in which, incidentally, he won the seventh place) - and he did not even do much campaigning in Iowa except for the last few weeks!

The (very close) runner-up, Rick Santorum, increased his share of the vote by a factor of two and a half.

Romney and Santorum together won half of all votes in the caucuses – but only 13% of all votes in the straw poll.

In fairness, it can be argued that the straw poll correctly predicted that Ron Paul would do much better this year than in 2008. But even then, he was a close runner-up in the straw poll but finished third in the caucuses and his vote share has declined by about a quarter, so it is impossible to tell whether the straw poll was actually an early indication of a real surge in his support or just a statistical coincidence.

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9 Comments so far ↓

  • TerryF98

    This race is very volatile, it changes almost from day to day. The only constant is that Romney cannot get over 25% of any vote or poll.

    • Graychin

      Romney probably will get more than 25% in New Hampshire where he has a home-field advantage.

      After that, with a much narrowed field gravitating to the only remaining “not Romney,” the voters are likely to (in the words of Rick Perry) “treat him pretty ugly.”

  • balconesfault

    The straw poll measures activism.

    The theory is that if you have enough fanatical activists in your camp, they’ll get out there and convince others to vote for you.

    In the case of a clearly unqualified candidate like Bachmann, there was nothing for fanatical activists to sell to those less fanatical than them.

    • Graychin

      Good analysis.

      Plus, the straw poll raises a good chunk of money for the Iowa Republican Party. I doubt that AV considers THAT to be useless.

  • rbottoms

    “You made me hate myself. Well I like myself now!”
    ~ Willard, 1971

  • Houndentenor

    That’s not the problem. The problem is that the media wants to play Jeanne Dixon and spends more time predicting what will happen next than they do reporting what just happened. They are more interested in personalities and gotchas than in substantive debates on important issues. The Ames Straw Poll is what it is. I don’t think anyone ever claimed it was a crystal ball into the future of the primary season. It’s one event and has no real meaning outside of itself, just like the Iowa Caucuses, the NH Primary, etc.

    We should spend more time on substance and less treating this as a horse race.

  • Gus

    I can’t help but laugh thinking how Tim Pawlenty must be kicking himself now. He’s just as boring and stupid as Santorum. That could have been him narrowly losing to Mittens.

  • Michigan Outsider

    If you are saying that straw polls don’t do a good job of predicting Republican nominees, that has been clear since at least 1996, when Phil Gramm won something like 40 straight straw polls before completely flaming out before a single primary vote was cast.

    This year, the Iowa straw poll did have at least one significant impact: it convinced Tim Pawlenty to stop running for President. Now, maybe his campaign would not have gone anywhere had he stayed in. But, if even Herman Cain got a few moments as the leading non-Romney candidate in the months after Iowa, Tim Pawlenty probably would have too.

    So, maybe the right description is that the Iowa straw poll never does anything useful, not that it is useless.

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