National attention is not Iowa's fault

Monday, March 16, 2015

A Republican straw poll is held in August in the year before a presidential election in which the Republican nomination is contested, which is any pre-election year other than when an incumbent Republican president is seeking reelection. This year it will be held in Boone on Aug. 8, the first time it has not been held in Ames since the first one in 1979. The outcome of the straw poll is not a good predictor of the eventual Republican nominee. Four years ago, Mitt Romney skipped the event. Michelle Bachmann came in first with Ron Paul coming in a close second. Tim Pawlenty, who came in third, dropped out after the straw poll. If there is any purpose to the event other than its original and primary purpose as a fundraiser for the Iowa GOP, it is winnowing the field a bit, something that is needed this year with as many as 17 candidates seeking the GOP nomination. The move to a new location is done in the hopes of maintaining interest in the event. Despite controversy, the national media reporters will continue to flock to to the straw poll, since news agencies are staffed with political junkies and August is a slow news month. The Iowa Republican Party cannot be blamed for the national media blowing the event out of proportion to its actual importance, but that is what happens. The Iowa GOP and the state of Iowa in general become the butt of jokes about the straw poll from the very people who spend excessive air time or print space devoted to it. What the national media pundits have not figured out yet is that the straw poll taken at Republican caucuses the following January are also meaningless. The media treat the results of that poll as defining who "wins the caucuses" but the straw poll at GOP caucus sites is not a good predictor of who will win the most delegates from Iowa to the Republican National convention. In 2012, Ron Paul came in third behind Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney in the caucus night straw poll although he would eventually have the support of 22 of the 28 Iowa delegates. That disparity, to the extent it was even acknowledged by national media, was also blamed on the Iowa GOP and Iowans in general.