Ames Straw Poll under fire from Gov. Terry Branstad

Ron Paul’s supporters cheer for him as he is announced as the runner-up of the 2011 Ames Straw Poll on Aug. 13 at Hilton Coliseum. 

Thaddeus Mast

The Iowa Straw Poll, one of the most popular Republican political events in Presidential election cycles, is now under fire from Gov. Terry Branstad. 

Back in August 2011, before the political campaigning started to take over billboards and television commercials, the Republican presidential candidates came to Ames for the Iowa Straw Poll. The poll is one of the first political events of the election season in Iowa, but Branstad wants to get rid of it.

Branstad explained why he dropped his support of the poll to Radio Iowa last week:

“A lot of people have had some real questions about the way the straw poll thing has evolved and the straw poll aspect of it. It’s not representative, and clearly, the results have shown that in recent times because the people that won the straw polls have not won the caucuses,” Branstad said. “And the caucuses are what’s most important, and that’s what I want to keep the focus on, … keeping the precinct caucuses first in the nation.”

As Branstad said, the poll is not very accurate at predicting the next Republican candidate. Michele Bachmann won the last poll with Ron Paul coming in second and eventual presidential candidate Mitt Romney coming in seventh. It has only predicted the correct presidential candidates two out of six times.

Dalton Drahos, junior in political science, does not see this as enough reason to stop the Straw Poll.

“There is no way the Iowa Republican Party is going to stop the Ames Straw Poll,” Drahos said. “They make way too much money to stop it without a good reason.”

Mack Shelley, university professor of political science, agrees.

“I think that it’s probably going to be retained if only because it’s a fundraising opportunity,” Shelley said. “That’s where it began in the first place in the late ‘70s. It was a way to try to attract candidates who would invest money and other supporters who would invest money in their campaign and spend it in Iowa. So, it’s literally designed as a way to raise revenue for the Republican Party. That’s one of the main ways the state party gets money.”

The Straw Poll gets so much money because every person who votes has to get a ticket, which can cost approximately $30.

“If you were to walk up to Michele Bachmann’s trailer and say that you wanted to vote for Michelle, they would give you a free ticket to go in and do that,” Shelley said. “The fundraising part of this is that someone has to pay for those tickets to get you in, but you don’t have to pay for them. What happens is that the campaigns buy up these tickets in advance. The Republican Party also charges rent on space, such as the parking lot and the grounds surrounding Hilton Coliseum.”

The Ames Straw Poll does not take place every election.

“It only happens in the years before a presidential election when you do not have a Republican in the White House,” Shelley said.

Even if the Iowa Straw Poll does go away, the only real loss will be the money the Iowa Republican Party and the Ames area receive from all the attention, Shelley said.

“The Iowa caucuses have a function under state law. The [Ames] Straw Poll doesn’t. The straw poll is not binding in any way. It has essentially zero effect on the delegate selection,” Shelley said.