Editorial

Why not eliminate both Iowa GOP straw polls?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A recent editorial in the Quad City Times suggested that the GOP straw poll in Iowa should expire, referring to the event that previously always took place in Ames in the August before any election year in which the Republican nomination for president was contested.

In an attempt to save it, the Iowa Republican Party fund raising event will be moved from Ames to Boone in 2015 and rules now limit the influence outside donors can have. As the Quad City Times points out, this may be too little too late to save the event.

If most of the candidates with top name recognition refrain from participation in the straw poll, the event will fade into obscurity, probably forever. If a few candidates with strong name recognition compete, the press will show up. After all, national media are staffed with political junkies and August is a slow news month.

Pundits and politicians have long known that the August straw poll is not an accurate predictor of who will win the GOP nomination or even who will have the most Iowa delegates at the Republican National Convention (RNC), but then neither does the other highly publicized GOP straw poll in Iowa.

The other straw poll is almost always referred to erroneously as the Iowa Republican caucus, but the actual caucuses are gatherings of Republicans at precincts who elect delegates to county conventions, who elect delegates to district conventions, who elect delegates to the state convention, who elect delegates to the national convention.

Prior to the delegate selection at each precinct caucus, there is a presidential popularity contest, a straw poll, conducted by secret ballot. This balloting across Iowa had many irregularities in 2012, with some precinct totals challenged and some precinct totals missing. Some are still missing.

Mitt Romney was initially declared the winner of this secret balloting, but Rick Santorum was subsequently named the winner. The incomplete count that was eventually produced showed what was close to being a tie between those two, but neither would get many of the 28 delegates from Iowa who went to the RNC. Romney got five and Santorum got none.

The Iowa GOP should drop the practice of secret ballots at caucus sites in favor of a practice similar to what Iowa Democrats do. The Democrats divide into groups based on candidate preference and then elect county delegates who are each committed to a candidate.