The Straw Poll Scam

August 14th, 2011 at 12:10 pm | 74 Comments |

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Why doesn’t the national Republican Party discourage the presidential hopefuls from participating in the Ames Straw Poll? While the benefits of this event to the Iowa GOP are perfectly clear, I don’t see any benefits to the party as a whole, and there may even be some harm.

The straw poll has no predictive (or even descriptive!) value. In 2007 Rudy Giuliani and John McCain together received a grand total of less than 2% of the vote. A visitor from Mars would have never guessed that one of these gentlemen was the indisputable front-runner at the time, topping 40% in nationwide polls of Republicans, and the other would eventually go on to win the nomination. Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo and Tommy Thompson each got a four digit number of votes – not bad in a poll with a total of just 14 thousand participants (especially compared to McCain’s 101 votes). Between the three of them they got over 36% of the vote. Each and every one of the three then dropped out before Christmas. In other words, over a third of the vote went to candidates who were not even candidates when the election year actually started. Furthermore, the poll also failed to predict the winner of the Iowa caucus four months later.

This year the straw poll is an outright disaster which may well hurt the party in the eyes of the voters (fortunately, the disaster was mitigated by Governor Perry’s presidential candidacy announcement drawing away a lot of media attention). Both the winner and the close runner-up are extremists, and nobody else won even half as many votes as either of them. Not only do the two top vote getters profess crazy views, but neither of them has any chance of winning the nomination. If nominated, neither of them has any chance of winning the election (even if the Democrats reciprocated by nominating Dennis Kucinich, the election would be won by a sane independent candidate). And if elected, neither of them is capable of governing. And yet they won a combined total of over 56% of the vote. What does this say about the party to a casual observer (e.g. an independent voter in a swing state)?!

If we define a “serious candidate” as someone who 1) is capable of governing and 2) has a realistic chance of winning either the nomination (Romney and Perry) or the general election (Romney and Huntsman), then all the serious candidates together received fewer votes than the joke candidacy of Herman Cain. If, to be charitable to Pawlenty, we replace the word ‘realistic’ in this definition with ‘plausible’, then all serious candidates still received well under a quarter of the total vote (this still holds true even if we implausibly expand the definition of a “serious candidate” to include Newt Gingrich). Let’s face it: the Ames Straw Poll may have been a serious political event back in the last millennium, but now it has become a freak show.

Recent Posts by Andrew Pavelyev

74 Comments so far ↓

  • booch221

    If we define a “serious candidate” as someone who 1) is capable of governing and 2) has a realistic chance of winning either the nomination (Romney and Perry) or the general election (Romney and Huntsman)…

    Is this implying that Perry doesn’t have a realistic chance of winning the general election?

    • medinnus

      I don’t think he does – the moderates, center-Conservatives, and liberals aren’t ready – nor will ever be ready – for a Fundamentalist Christianism candidate.

      • foosion

        Saying that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional ponzi schemes is not exactly designed to appeal to the mainstream either.

      • jakester

        I am no perry fan, but he seems to be a lot more reasonable than Bachmann

        • busboy33

          “alot more reasonable than Bachmann” is perfectly compatible with “still too extreme for most voters”.

  • ottovbvs

    I don’t disagree that the Iowa poll is to be taken with a large pinch of salt but neither can it be dismissed out of hand. The results have just caused one of the Very Serious candidates to drop out and the party’s presumptive front runner was too scared to participate which has to tell you something about how enthusiastic the base are about him. Andrew claims the entry of Perry has distracted attention from the result where two “extremists” came out top without noting that in most people’s minds anyone who claims SS and Medicare are unconstitutional; has talked taking his state out of the Union; and holds mass prayer meetings to call for rain; would be called “extremist.” One wonders what Andrew’s definition of an extremist is? The one thing this little homily tells me is that the VSP like Andrew are wetting their pants at the strong showing of Bachmann.

  • Lizzie


    Instead of calling the straw poll a scam, why don’t you just call the extremist candidates for what they are, crazies!

    You are not happy that the crazies won. Write something on why what the crazies are saying does not make sense.

    • anniemargret


      But that would be admitting that the GOP has royally screwed up all these years courting the Religious Right and the TP fruit loops.

      And that, as they say, is the rest of the story.

    • foosion

      The problem with the straw poll is that it heavily favors extremist crazies.

  • JimBob

    Republicans shouldn’t listen to a Russian immigrant on how to run the nomination process. The straw poll in Ames is a test of organization. It is heartland America.

    • anniemargret

      And there are millions of people in the heartland and coastal America who are scratching their collective heads and wondering why the ‘heartland’ has a couple of screws loose, favoring a complete meltdown of America economically, hurting themselves and their families in the process, in order to ‘win.’

      The rest of us just know the ‘heartland’ has no heart.

    • medinnus

      Your “heartland” represents 20-30% of the country. The rest of the country laughs at the deluded, redneck hillbillies who can’t think for themselves.

      • agustinvicente

        Let’s hope you are right!

      • JimBob

        I’m sure an intellectual like you thinks Barry Obama is a great President.

        • jakester

          No matter what he thinks about Obama, Bachmann is a total crackpot unfit to be a leader.

        • medinnus

          I think he’s been a horrible President on the issues I care about, which don’t include pushing a fascist Christianist agenda, nor universal healthcare. I think he should be impeached for being an accessory to war crimes. I think someone needs to forcibly reign in the extended secrecy policies that the cocksucker Cheney expanded from Clinton’s policies. I think that he needs to be censured for not gaining congressional approval for Libya.

          That said, the only reason he got my vote in 2008 is because McCain added a Christianist to his ticket, and so far, the GOP has “doubled down” on their insanity for 2012. I would vote to re-elect Obama a thousand times rather than aid and abet the destructive fascism of the GOP “Front Runners”, or their partisan obstructionism.

          I think I’ve said this about a thousand times here on FF, but idiots like you keep calling me a Liberal because I’m not a social Conservative. Its that kind of willful myopia and “political purity” that will keep Obama in the White House. Compromise is not a dirty word in politics, its the lifeblood of progress.

      • ram6968

        iowa- 7 electoal votes….and obama won that stae in 08……go figure

    • indy

      That a boy, Jimbob. Ignore the message and shoot the messenger. I’d expect nothing less.

    • ktward

      [blockquote]JimBob // Aug 14, 2011 at 12:51 pm
      The straw poll in Ames is a test of organization. It is heartland America.[/blockquote]

      You don’t actually know how the IA Straw Poll works, do ya JimBob? Here’s a hint: it’s not at all about organization, it’s about money.

      For a chuckle or two, if you can stand it:—corn-polled-edition—ames-entertainment-preview

  • Rabiner


    Plenty has been written about how what Michelle Bachmann has said recently (not just in the past) doesn’t make sense or is a fabrication. For example her response regarding the debt ceiling in the debate didn’t make sense since she voted for the Ryan budget which would require a raising of the debt ceiling and was a fabrication since it said S & P downgraded the credit rating for a different reason than she gave (S&P clarified it had a lot to do with politician entertaining the idea of default the next day).

    • Lizzie

      Did Andrew write about it? No, so my comment does apply.

      • Andrew Pavelyev

        Actually, if you look at the list of my recent posts right under the main body of this post, you will see that my last two posts (dated August 6 and 11) were precisely on these topics (in fact Rabiner may have been referring to those posts).

  • TAZ

    On the bright side, it gives us something to talk about in a slow political news cycle.

  • Oldskool

    The straw poll isn’t the only freak show, so are the right wing media and Rep members of Congress. The number of sane Rs is so small it no longer resembles a political party as much as a flash mob.

  • cotton

    Thank you Andrew, for writing what many of us also think of the poll – and the two top winners. Everyone knows Bachmann is a nut – but only frumforum has the decency to state what other newsites merely dance around. Bachmann and the other “crazies” in the TEA party are harming both the country and the GOP.

    • Graychin

      The Frum Forum is no more a “newsite” than any other blog with a point of view. Google “Bachmann” and “crazy” or “deranged” and you get hundreds of hits. Thousands of hits!

      Yes, much of the MSM attempts to be “fair and balanced” by finding false equivalence wherever it looks: Obama with a supposedly “radical” agenda, or acceptance of Bachmann as just another alternative point of view, for example.

      Frum Forum is trying desperately to pull the Republican Party back from the brink of total radical insanity as represented by the Tea Party. That is FF’s point of view. I happen to think it’s a hopeless cause.

    • pnwguy


      Since his show is on MSNBC, he often gets lumped into the other left-of-center hosts there by any right wing critics. But former GOP rep from Florida, Joe Scarborough, pulls no punches here on Friday.

      If you saw the show before this clip, he also takes the position of this columnist that the straw vote is a meaningless exercise in theater.

      It will be interesting to see his reaction on Monday, after the poll vote.

  • Graychin

    If one of your “boys” (Huntsman, Romney, Pawlenty) had done well in the straw poll yesterday, you would be singing its praises today. That they did so poorly shows just how far out of the Republican mainstream they (and you) are. To be a credible Republican today, you gotta be certifiably deranged – like Ms. Bachmann or Dr. Paul

    The Iowa straw poll democratizes the GOP by opening doors. It’s a way for marginal candidates to demonstrate early that they have some voter appeal without needing a huge early bankroll. It’s a way for the outsiders to break into the cozy little GOP club that has a long history of nominating whoever is next in line. Pawlenty didn’t have the chops. Bachmann does.

    McCain had the credibility and backing to maintain a campaign after his early disasters in Iowa. Giuliani and Pawlenty – not so much.

    Gentlemen, like it or not – this freak show is YOUR Republican party of 2011. As you sow….

    • agustinvicente

      I can’t see Bachmann or Perry being great choices or serious choices. They seem very extreme and will not be popular in the general election. That these candidates are being taken so seriously is a bit confusing. They seem absolutely crazy and weird to me.

      • Graychin

        I agree with every word that you wrote about Bachmann and Perry. Not great, not even serious, unelectable. Crazy and weird. The unfortunate fact is that they resonate with kind of people who vote in Republican primaries.

  • Houndentenor

    It always amuses me when people this early in a presidential campaign can only see the snapshot of which horse won by a nose and not that this represents which issues the voters feel most strongly about. The later part of the race (especially the general election) is about the candidates themselves, but at this point it’s about what each candidate represents more than who they are. The party folks who come out to straw-polls and caucuses in both parties do not represent the typical party, but they do shape the party platform. For that reason these early events do matter, just not in the way that most people (and most of the media) seem to think they do.

    I don’t think that either Bachman or Paul has a chance of getting the nomination. I can’t imagine that the party elite would allow that to happen. But the faction(s) of the party that they represent will have to be represented on the final ticket. That probably means a Romney-Perry ticket.

    One interesting note: for all the talk from the right about the “liberal media” I found it interesting how well reporters from the networks and cable news channels interviewed Bachman as if she weren’t a nutjob. That’s a level of professionalism I thought was long gone from television news. Kudos because I couldn’t have gotten through something like that with a straight face. People in the party take Bachman seriously. Not all of them, obviously and probably not the people who pump in the money, but she represents a large faction of the GOP that has been courted during elections and then mostly ignored in between them. Now they have critical mass. Your chickens have come home to roost.

    • Graychin

      “I don’t think that either Bachman or Paul has a chance of getting the nomination. I can’t imagine that the party elite would allow that to happen.”

      I don’t believe that the “party elite” controls the GOP as it once did. They (Armey, Kochs, Fox News) collaborated to start the Tea Party as another front in the Global War on Obama. Now the TP has slipped off its leash and runs wild. And it’s hungry.

      Either Bachmann or Perry will win the nomination. Probably Bachmann – she’s smarter, and less creepy. And there is a widespread perception of Perry as Bush #3.

      Read my lips – No New Texans.

      • agustinvicente

        You think Bachmann is less creepy than Perry? Oh my. I know very little about Perry and your comment is telling.

        • elizajane

          Bachmann is stone ignorant and crazy. Perry is slick, manipulative, corrupt, and pseudo-crazy — that is, he knows how to do the crazy act when he needs to appeal to Bachmann’s base.

          If the field is now functionally down to three candidates, I feel like going out and working for Romney. And I’m a democrat! But I’d still like the Republican candidate to be somebody who was not actually destructive.

        • agustinvicente

          I understand what you mean, elizajane. Houndentenor seems to think Mitt will knock out the two kooks to become the nominee. Let’s hope he is right.

        • Houndentenor

          Yes, I think Perry is scarier than Bachman. Bachman can’t hide her crazy. Perry can if you aren’t listening closely and when was the last time the general public or the idiots on cable news listened carefully to anything. I think they cancel each other out in the primary, splitting the Christianist vote allowing Romney to take the winner-take-all states and thereby catapulting him to the nomination. But then that means he’ll have to take one of them (or someone like them) as the VP or risk a revolt by that religious right/Tea Party. (I know they are theoretically different but I hardly ever come across one who isn’t the other as well.)

        • elizajane

          If you look at the pix from Perry’s revival meeting, you’ll see that his religious right is a very different thing from the Tea Party. It is a lot more racially diverse, for starters. I’d also guess that it’s less wealthy and less well-educated, though I’m just judging from appearances. Anyway, his potential to bring in a non-Tea Party segment of the Right is part of his power. Nonetheless, I do have my fingers crossed that he has too much baggage to actually win this nomination, and it’s a kind of baggage that the media won’t hesitate to call him on. Bachmann’s baggage is harder to discuss in rational, public ways.

        • agustinvicente

          That’s an interesting analysis. Mitt gets it by default, then… He is a bit stiff and unlikable but he has about the best chance to beat Obama in the general election out of the three.

        • ram6968

          if you need your base AND the middle to win….and the bsae is the tea party…how’s mitt got a chance?

  • Dazedandconfused

    Anybody think the people that bothered to vote in this straw poll are representative of the demographic that turns out in Presidential elections in hard times?

    Didn’t think so.

    The media is behaving in this way because most of the people that pay attention to them anymore are political junkies. P1 “stay tuned through the commercials” are being catered to across a broad spectrum of news media, not just talk radio.

  • drdredel

    Actually… it’s interesting that you note Kucinich in your example, Andrew. I can’t find it now, but there was a really interesting poll that showed that when their names were removed from the questioning and just their positions were left on the survey, a large majority of the people polled agreed mostly with the views of Paul and Kucinich, whose views, apparently, overlap on many issues. People love calling these guys crazy (and of course some of their positions are fairly nutty) but if you step away from the ad hominem and just look at their policies, both those guys are actually mostly sensible, much of the time. Primarily they’re called “crazy” because they say things that are largely true (or at least based in honesty), which everyone finds jarring as they’re used to hearing all sorts of warmed over cat crap that they have to parse through to figure out what’s being said.

  • ottovbvs

    “both those guys are actually mostly sensible, much of the time.”

    Very occasionally true (eg. the War on Drugs is a costly failure) but most of the time not. They produce grotesque oversimplifications that sound good on the surface (which is why they have such appeal to the mass who love feel good solutions) but if you actually tried to implement them would cause chaos.

    • Nanotek

      knowing they know how much is spent to enforce drug laws, its hard to take traditional anti-deficit advocates seriously.

  • Nanotek

    “Republicans shouldn’t listen to a Russian immigrant on how to run the nomination process. The straw poll in Ames is a test of organization. It is heartland America.”

    Ames is no more the heartland of America than Los Angeles … Americans are the heart of America. There is no heart land.

    • seattleperson

      “Ames is no more the heartland of America than Los Angeles … Americans are the heart of America. There is no heart land.”


    • elizajane

      Second that.

    • anniemargret

      Ditto to all above.

      Palin started this nonsense with her ‘real America’ silliness and the media picked up on it. There is a nomenclature to use ‘the heartland’ geographically within the continental USA but certainly there are good people with good values in all of America. The wise politician would stay away from this boondoggle, but Bachmann, Perry et al who play up to it do so at their own risk.

      In fact, I think the next politician who uses the term ‘the heartland’ as if they are more American than the rest of us, should be called out on it, and asked to explain themselves.

      • jakester

        If you start questioning what makes a real American, chances are you are NOT a real American. You prolly eat vegetables and yogurt and listen to classical music or something wrong like that.

        • pnwguy


          You left out details. Fried spuds are OK, if you call them Freedom Fries. But arugula or Belgium endive are products of the devil. If you eat brie, you obviously hate America with a passion. Purchase anything at Whole Foods and you have a poster of Lenin on your wall. You can sing hymns from Bach, but listen to one of his string concertos and you’re elitist scum. For musical entertainment there are only two kinds of music, country *and* western, just like at Bob’s Country Bunker.

        • anniemargret

          Good heavens…I’m into Greek yogurt now with blueberries. Very un-American and East Coast of me!

        • jakester

          No, there are some great patriotic rockers too, like Ted Nugent, Gwar and the Boss, (when he isn’t in one of his gurly liberal moods)

    • Hunter01

      I concur. Iowa has forfeited its claim to the honorific “heartland.” Iowans (with obvious exceptions) have shown themselves again and again to be mean-spirited, simple-minded fools who would happily destroy the nation for the sake of their pernicious, bigoted, politico-religious worldview. Iowas farm animals are deserving of more respect.

      President Bachmann, indeed.

    • roubaix

      I’ve spent extended time in rural Iowa. It’s certainly one of the worst places in America. :-(

  • gmckee1985

    We need to change the primary process. Iowa and South Carolina don’t represent the nation. More purple states like Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Colorado should hold more sway. Because those are the states you are going to need to win a general election.

    • anniemargret

      ….and North Carolina. Very different state than SC. It is now a purple state.

  • jakester

    I can’t wait for the talk radio conservative pundit type to tell us just how rational and intellectual the conservative movement is and that the tea parties have nothing to do with the fundies & soc cons.

  • Bunker555

    A look inside the Michele Bachmann Kool-Aid machine

    Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a Tea Party favourite, rallied the thousands of conservatives who gathered for the opening day of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, DC on Thursday. A natural cheerleader, she addressed the essentially white upper-middle-class crowd as “an exciting group of people” composed of “problem-solvers”. She even complimented CPAC attendees on their physical appearance: “You are all incredibly good-looking,” she said. And she promised to pick up the bar tab for the 11,000 attendees at “5.30 pm this evening”.
    [my emphasis]

  • Bulldoglover100

    Has anyone checked the average intelligence level in Iowa? LOL Enough said.

  • Bulldoglover100

    Bachmann is a nut job who looks like Jack Nicholson in the shining when he sticks his face through the door he has cut down with an ax…except it’s Bachmann saying Here’s your next nut job!

    • AnBr

      Bachmann is a nut job who looks like Jack Nicholson in the shining when he sticks his face through the door he has cut down with an ax…except it’s Bachmann saying Here’s your next nut job!

      A lot of fuss was made about the Bachmann Newsweek cover photo. It was very unflattering, but when I first saw it and heard the complains about it, my first thought was “But that is the way she always looks.” She always has a distracted, unfocused look. Her eyes look soulless and empty. I first noticed it in her State of the Union response, but at the time I dismissed it as just she was staring at a teleprompter. Since then, I have noticed that she always looks that way, even when there is obviously no teleprompter around.

  • ottovbvs

    “A lot of fuss was made about the Bachmann Newsweek cover photo”

    The “fuss” was made by conservative drummers like Breitbart. Paradoxically it just had the effect of drawing more attention to it which I’m sure was the intent of Tina Brown who is nothing if not a shrewd judge of American behavior patterns. Breitbart and his ilk did a great job of reminding Americans that Bachmann is borderline crazy. Thanks Andy.

  • jorae

    I hate being a conspiraist….but, how could Bachmann ever win, if we were not convinced there was a force called the Tea Party?

    I have come to the conclusion, when you have the amount of money in the hands of a few like the Koch family, who wants Libertarian Republicans, you are going to get corruption in the voting process…Most voting machines are electronic…and nothing would be easier…it’s a no brainer.

    The only way she can win, is if you believe the Tea Party exists.

    The party no longer exists…But if they tell you on the new they do, you don’t question it.

    I went to a monthly meeting to see what they discussed last month. Our town of 70,000 people…they had 35 people at the most…and how many were people like me…just went to watch.

    McCain Town hall (Hobbit meeting) in Gilbert AZ had maybe 70 people in attendance…The town has a population of 218,397

    Google Tea party…see how many are hooked to the VA office, the information is over a year old, or only one ‘contributor’ to current stories…The last Tea Party seminar in LV was cancelled due to the lack of RSVP…

    The richest country in the world with the richest people wanting to control their ‘assets’ can change America….Our knowledge is from the air waves, and we are fed what they want us to believe.

    When the Republicans won in Nov, they had a 60% disapproval rating…How did the Tea Party win just enough to control the House?

    “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”
    Louis D. Brandeis (Supreme Court Judge)

    Sorry, that is how I feel.

  • ottovbvs

    “When the Republicans won in Nov, they had a 60% disapproval rating”

    Tribalism and turnout. The teaparty is an astroturf operation manned by what is the hard right base of the Republican party.

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  • Southern Populist

    “The straw poll has no predictive (or even descriptive!) value.”

    Other than in 1987, the Iowa straw poll has correctly predicted a future vice president, president, GOP nominee for president, or a serious GOP contender for president.

    - DSP

  • bdtex

    “fortunately, the disaster was mitigated by Governor Perry’s presidential candidacy announcement drawing away a lot of media attention”

    I don’t think so. I don’t think it was mitigated at all. Since both Bachmann and Perry are considered to be Tea Party types vying for the same votes,and with Bachmann-Paul finishing 1-2,the Ames Straw Poll got even more media attention. Wasn’t Bachmann on all of the Sunday morning talkies? And look at the headlines all across the ‘net today.

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