Iowa Straw Poll
|Venue||Central Iowa Expo|
|Location||Ames, Iowa, USA|
|Cause||Republican U.S. presidential candidate selection process|
|Organized by||Iowa Republican Party|
|Elections in Iowa|
The Iowa Straw Poll (also known as the Ames Straw Poll) was a presidential straw poll and fundraising event for the Republican Party of Iowa. It was held six times, traditionally in late summer approximately six months in advance of contested presidential Iowa caucuses, from 1979 until 2011, on the campus of Iowa State University in Ames.
The event attracted both praise and criticism, with supporters noting that it raised funds for the Republican Party of Iowa and winnowed large fields of presidential candidates. Critics asserted that it catered to extremist candidates and put a financial squeeze on campaigns. The poll itself was a poor bellwether for either the Iowa caucuses or the GOP nomination; only twice (Bob Dole in '95 and George W. Bush in '99) did the winner of the straw poll win either the Iowa caucuses or the Republican nomination the next year.
On June 12, 2015, the Republican Party of Iowa announced that the straw poll will no longer be held.
The poll has been described as a cross between a political convention and a county fair, where Iowa voters had a chance to mingle, eat barbecue and have a little fun. The party divided the venue into sections and auctioned each to the candidates, who could then set up booths to present their case to the voters. The larger areas and those closest to the entrance tended to 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 were allowed to vote in the Iowa Straw Poll. However, for the later years of the poll, all voters were required to be at least 16 1/2 years of age, be a legal resident of Iowa or a student attending an Iowa university or college, and purchase a ticket, although some campaigns paid the fee for their supporters. Voters had their hands stamped or their thumbs dipped in ink when entering the voting area so that they could not vote twice. Ballots were put into electronic voting machines.
As a straw poll, the Iowa Straw Poll's results were non-binding and had no official effect on the presidential primaries. However, the straw poll was frequently seen as a first test of organizational strength in Iowa by the news media and party insiders. As such, it could be beneficial for the winning candidate on the national level because it built momentum for their campaign, enhanced their aura of inevitability, or showed off a superior field operation.
Nevertheless, in the six times the poll was held, the winner of the Iowa Straw Poll went on to win the Iowa caucuses only three times for that same election cycle. The winner of the straw poll won the Republican presidential nomination twice 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. Usually the winner or the second-place finisher in the straw poll went on to win the Iowa caucuses, although in 2011, Rick Santorum placed fourth in the straw poll before winning the caucuses the following January.
On a more local level, the Iowa Straw Poll gave a major boost to the local economy. Thousands of people, including journalists, campaign staffers, and voters, arrived in town each election cycle around the time of the poll. The Iowa Straw Poll was one of the Iowa Republican Party's most lucrative fundraising events.
In its early years, the Iowa Straw Poll was criticized for having many voters who were not residents of Iowa. Candidates would bus in supporters from other states. However, beginning with the 1999 Iowa Straw Poll, all voters were required to show proof of legal residence in Iowa. Before the 1999 Iowa Straw Poll, cheating was perceived to be 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 Iowa 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 Iowa 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 failed to demonstrate the consequence of full competition among all candidates. The poll was criticized for heavily favoring better-funded candidates, as better-funded candidates were able to afford transportation costs to bus in more supporters and to reimburse those supporters for meal tickets. After the 2007 Iowa 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.
In 2012, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad said "I think the straw poll has outlived its usefulness" and "It has been a great fundraiser for the party but I think its days are over."  The party eventually decided to cancel the 2015 contest and all future contests on June 12, 2015; several high-profile candidates had indicated they would not participate in that year's poll, and the party stated that the poll was causing a distraction from the state's official caucus several months after the straw poll.
Summary of results
|Date||Associated primaries and/or elections||Winner of Iowa 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|
|September 12, 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|
|3||George H. W. Bush||864||22.5%|
Pat Robertson won the 1987 Iowa Straw Poll. Despite finishing second in the Iowa Straw Poll, Bob Dole would go on to win the Iowa Caucus. Despite finishing third in the Iowa Straw Poll, George H. W. Bush would go on to win the Republican nomination and the presidency.
|1 (tie)||Phil Gramm||2,582||24.4%|
|1 (tie)||Bob Dole||2,582||24.4%|
|1||George W. Bush||7,418||31.3%|
A record 23,685 voters participated in the 1999 Iowa Straw Poll, held at the Hilton Coliseum. George W. Bush was cemented as the frontrunner by the results of the Iowa Straw Poll and eventually went on to win the Iowa caucuses; Steve Forbes, who had committed a fair amount of cash to winning the poll, was embarrassed by his second-place showing. Elizabeth Dole, who had spent comparably less, considered her third-place finish a boost to her flagging campaign (though she dropped out two months later due to lackluster fundraising). John McCain, who would later emerge as Bush's only serious competition in the GOP primaries, received just 83 votes in the poll, but was not an official candidate at the time; he was also considered unpopular in Iowa due to his opposition to ethanol subsidies. Due to poor results in the Iowa Straw Poll, Lamar Alexander and Dan Quayle both dropped out of the presidential race immediately after the Iowa Straw Poll.
|11||John H. Cox||41||0.3%|
14,302 ballots were cast in the 2007 Iowa-StrawPollNoShows" 
In June, two months before the poll, presidential candidates Rudy Giuliani and John McCain announced that they would skip the 2007 Iowa 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.
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%|
Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman were on the ballot but did not actively compete in the 2011 straw poll. 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.
In 2015, the Republican Party of Iowa, concerned about the cost charged by Iowa State University in 2011, publicly solicited bids from other potential event sites. On March 12, 2015, Boone was announced as the winning bidder, after a vote by GOP party board members. However, several of the Republican presidential candidates—including Jeb Bush, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, and Marco Rubio—announced that they would not take part in the straw poll. On June 12, 2015, the Republican Party of Iowa announced that, as the result of a unanimous vote, the straw poll will no longer be held due to the decline in candidate support.
Despite the absence of an official straw poll, the 2015 Iowa State Fair held an informal poll of its attendees (both Republican and Democrat), and found Donald Trump to be the most favored GOP candidate, and Bernie Sanders the most popular Democrat. Ted Cruz went on to defeat Donald Trump by 4 percent in the Iowa Caucuses, while Hillary Clinton defeated Bernie Sanders by less than 1 percent.
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