Ames straw poll
|Elections in Iowa|
The Ames Straw Poll is a presidential straw poll taken by Iowa Republicans. It occurs in Ames, Iowa on the campus of Iowa State University, on a Saturday in August of years in an election cycle in which the Republican presidential nomination seems to be undecided (that is, in years without an incumbent Republican President running for re-election). Because it draws many voters from all over the state, the Ames Straw Poll is by far the most prominent of the several straw polls held in Iowa. Thus it is also commonly known as the Iowa Straw Poll. It was first held in 1979.
The poll has been described as a cross between a political convention and a county fair, where Iowa voters have a chance to mingle, eat barbecue and have a little fun. The party divides the venue into sections and auctions each to the candidates, who can then set up booths to present their case to the voters. The larger areas and those closest to the entrance often fetch the highest price. In 2011 bidding started at $15,000 and ranged to as high as $31,000 (bid by Ron Paul).
Non-Republicans are allowed to vote in the Ames Straw Poll. However, all voters must be at least 16 1/2 years of age, be legal residents of the state of Iowa or a student attending an Iowa university/college, and purchase a ticket priced at $30, however some campaigns pay the fee for their supporters. Voters have their hands stamped or their thumbs dipped in ink when entering the voting area so that they cannot vote twice. Ballots are put into electronic voting machines.
As a straw poll, the Ames Straw Poll's results are non-binding and have no official effect on the presidential primaries. However, the straw poll is frequently seen as a first test of organizational strength in Iowa by the news media and party insiders. As such, it can become very beneficial for the winning candidate on the national level because it builds momentum for their campaign, enhances their aura of inevitability, and shows off a superior field operation.
Since its founding, the winner of the Ames Straw Poll has gone on to win the Iowa caucuses 3 times out of 6 for that same election cycle. The winner of the straw poll has won the Republican presidential nomination 2 times out of 6 for that same election cycle. Two additional winners of the straw poll (George H.W. Bush and Mitt Romney) would win the Republican nomination, but not in the same election cycle that they won the straw poll. It should also be noted that historically, either the winner or the one in second place has gone on to win the Iowa Caucuses.
On a more local level, the Ames Straw Poll gives a major boost to the local economy. Thousands of people, including journalists, campaign staffers, and voters, arrive in town around the time of the poll. The Ames Straw Poll is one of the Iowa Republican Party's most lucrative fundraising events.
The Ames Straw Poll was formerly criticized for having many voters who were not residents of Iowa. Candidates would bus in supporters from other states. However, beginning with the 1999 Ames Straw Poll, all voters were required to show proof of legal residence in Iowa. Before the 1999 Ames Straw Poll, voter fraud was widespread: many individuals managed to vote repeatedly by visiting the bathroom and washing off the stamp on the back of their hand which indicated they had voted. Beginning with the 1999 Ames Straw Poll, the ink used for hand-stamping was changed to one that resisted being washed off. In 2007, instead of hand-stamping, thumbs were dipped in indelible ink.
In 2007, the Ames Straw Poll was criticized for having only 14,302 voters participating, compared to about 23,000 voters eight years earlier in the 1999 polls, and for failing to have three of the four leading candidates participate in the poll, Rudolph Giuliani, John McCain and Fred Thompson. Consequently the votes received by Mitt Romney and second-place finisher Mike Huckabee have failed to demonstrate the consequence of full competition among all candidates. The poll has been criticized for heavily favoring better-funded candidates, as better-funded candidates are able to afford transportation costs to bus in more supporters and to reimburse those supporters for meal tickets. After the 2007 Ames Straw Poll, some Ron Paul supporters contended that the Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold Election Systems) voting machines were inaccurate or rigged. They said that the announced vote was much fewer than the number of tickets sold and that exit polls showed Paul doing much better.
Summary of results
|Date||Associated primaries and/or elections||Winner of Ames Straw Poll||Winner of Iowa Caucus||Winner of Republican primaries||Winner of presidential election||Price of a dinner ticket|
|August 1979|| 1980 Republican primaries
1980 presidential election
|George H. W. Bush||George H. W. Bush||Ronald Reagan||Ronald Reagan|
|August 1987|| 1988 Republican primaries
1988 presidential election
|Pat Robertson||Bob Dole||George H. W. Bush||George H. W. Bush|
|August 19, 1995|| 1996 Republican primaries
1996 presidential election
|Bob Dole, Phil Gramm (tie)||Bob Dole||Bob Dole||Bill Clinton|
|August 14, 1999|| 2000 Republican primaries
2000 presidential election
|George W. Bush||George W. Bush||George W. Bush||George W. Bush||$25|
|August 11, 2007|| 2008 Republican primaries
2008 presidential election
|Mitt Romney||Mike Huckabee||John McCain||Barack Obama||$35|
|August 13, 2011|| 2012 Republican primaries
2012 presidential election
|Michele Bachmann||Rick Santorum||Mitt Romney||Barack Obama||$30|
Detailed year-by-year results
September 12, 1987 ("Cavalcade of Stars")
|3||George H. W. Bush||864||22.5%|
Pat Robertson won the 1987 Ames Straw Poll. Despite finishing second in the Ames Straw Poll, Bob Dole would go on to win the Iowa Caucus. Despite finishing third in the Ames Straw Poll, George H. W. Bush would go on to win the Republican nomination and the Presidency.
August 19, 1995
|1 (tie)||Bob Dole||2,582||24.4%|
|1 (tie)||Phil Gramm||2,582||24.4%|
August 14, 1999
|1||George W. Bush||7,418||31.3%|
A record 23,685 voters participated in the 1999 Ames Straw Poll, held at the Hilton Coliseum. George W. Bush was cemented as the frontrunner by the results of the Ames Straw Poll and eventually went on to win the primaries and the presidential election; his only serious challenge afterwards for the Republican nomination came from John McCain, whose poor performance in the straw poll was because he did not officially declare his candidacy until September, the month after the straw poll. Due to poor results in the Ames Straw Poll, Lamar Alexander and Dan Quayle both dropped out of the presidential race immediately after the Ames Straw Poll. Elizabeth Dole and Pat Buchanan dropped out of the Republican race within a month after the Ames Straw Poll, though Pat Buchanan continued his presidential campaign as a Reform Party candidate instead.
August 11, 2007
|11||John H. Cox||41||0.3%|
In June, two months before the poll, presidential candidates Rudy Giuliani and John McCain announced that they would skip the 2007 Ames Straw Poll, while Fred Thompson had yet to officially enter the race. The Iowa Republican Party decided to include their names on the ballots anyway. Mitt Romney won the straw poll, as had been widely predicted prior to the event.
August 13, 2011
The 2011 Iowa Straw Poll was held on August 13, 2011, at the Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.
|6||Rick Perry (write-in)||718||4.3%|
The day after the poll, on August 14, Tim Pawlenty announced his withdrawal from the race after his third place finish. Rick Perry, who was not on the poll ballot and only appeared as a write-in candidate, formally announced his candidacy while in South Carolina on the same day that the poll took place.
- Official site of the Ames Straw Poll
- Official site of the Iowa Republican Party, which sponsors the Ames Straw Poll
- Origin of the Ames Straw Poll
- Discussion of history of the Ames Straw Poll