The Most Overhyped Straw Poll In America

by John Hawkins | August 13, 2007 3:49 am

“I hate to be nasty, but anybody who takes the Ames Straw Poll results seriously is an idiot. A bunch of people spent ludicrous amounts of money to bus-and-truck 14,000 people to a big picnic, and the guy who spent the most bought the win with a mammoth 4516 votes. Goshers!” — John Podhoretz[1]

There are two types of straw polls.

The first is a poll of a certain relatively fixed group of Republicans and conservatives. Straw polls of this sort can be useful as a barometer of a candidate’s current strength or alternately, perhaps of the future strength of the candidates if they’re around to talk to the group for the poll.

The second type of straw poll is of the type that can be easily gamed by encouraging supporters to show up or even busing them in. Straw polls of this sort are the real life equivalent of the sort of online polls Ron Paul wins because his supporters spam them silly.

The Ames poll, which you have probably heard about ad nauseum this week-end, was the latter sort of straw poll. Here are the results from the Ames straw poll[2].

11. John Cox with 41 votes.
10. John McCain with 101 votes.
9. Duncan Hunter with 174 votes.
8. Rudy Giuliani with 183 votes.
7. Fred Thomson with 203 votes.
6. Tommy Thompson, 1,039 votes, 7.3%
5. Ron Paul with 1305 votes, and 9.1%
4. Tom Tancredo with 1961 votes, 13.7%.
3. Sen. Sam Brownback with 2192 votes and 15.3%
2. Mike Huckabee with 2587 votes, 18.1%
1. Mitt Romney with 4516 votes, 31%.

Coming in, everybody knew Mitt Romney was going to win the event because the other top tier contenders weren’t participating and because Mitt was spending more on the event than the whole rest of the field put together.

Nobody knows the exact numbers that were spent on the Ames straw poll but unsuprisingly, given the nature of the event, the three candidates who supposedly spent the most — Mitt Romney ($2 million?), Sam Brownback ($600,000?), Mike Huckabee ($250,000?), finished first, second, and third.

So, how representative are these results of what’s happening in Iowa? Honestly, not very. If you look at polls of Iowa[3], you will find Mitt in first place (He has been running advertising there for a while), but you’ll also find Rudy and Fred Thompson in double digits with McCain in the high single digits. So, why did Rudy, Fred, and McCain bomb out in the poll? Simple: they didn’t pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to bus people in to vote for them.

With that in mind, how significant is Ames? Again, honestly, not very. It’s always better to win than to lose, so Mitt might benefit a bit from getting his name in the news for a week-end and Huckabee might get a small boost from coming in second. Additionally, the Tommy Thompson campaign used their loss at Ames as an excuse to drop out of the race, which isn’t a bad thing given that he had no chance to capture the nomination.

However, is this an event that will matter a month or even two weeks from now? Probably not. The moment Rudy and McCain chose not to waste millions of dollars to try to bus in a few thousand Iowans to vote for them, this extremely overhyped event lost most of the limited amount of significance that it had in the first place.

  1. John Podhoretz:
  2. results from the Ames straw poll:
  3. polls of Iowa:

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