Iowa Straw Poll (1979–2011)

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Iowa Straw Poll
2011 logo
VenueCentral Iowa Expo
LocationAmes, Iowa, USA
TypeStraw poll
CauseRepublican U.S. presidential candidate selection process
Organized byIowa Republican Party
ParticipantsRepublican Party

The Iowa Straw Poll (also known as the Ames Straw Poll)[1] 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.[2][3] The poll itself held a mixed record as a bellwether for either the Iowa caucuses or the GOP nomination; on three occasions (George H. W. Bush in '79, Bob Dole in '95, and George W. Bush in '99) the winner of the straw poll also won the Iowa caucuses the next year, but only twice ('95 and '99) did these candidates win the GOP nomination. Only one winner of the straw poll, George W. Bush, won the presidency.

On June 12, 2015, the Republican Party of Iowa announced that the straw poll will no longer be held.[4] A similar poll (also at times referred to as the Iowa Straw Poll) has been conducted at the Iowa State Fair since 2015.


The poll took place among attendees of a fundraising dinner benefiting the Iowa Republican Party. Before the vote, each candidate was given an opportunity to make a short speech to the attendees.

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).[5]

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.[6] 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.[7]

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) won 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.[8] 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.[8]

In fall 2020, one Republican pundit compared the upcoming Georgia and Senate runoffs to this event: "It'll be like Iowa during the straw poll era. A modern-day Ames in the Peach State."[9]


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.[8] Before the 1999 Iowa Straw Poll, cheating was perceived to be widespread:[citation needed] 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.[10] In 2007, instead of hand-stamping, thumbs were dipped in indelible ink.[11]

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, Rudy 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.[12] 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.[10]

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." [13] 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.[4]


Summary of results[edit]

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[8][10]
August 11, 2007 2008 Republican primaries
2008 presidential election
Mitt Romney Mike Huckabee John McCain Barack Obama $35[14][15]
August 13, 2011 2012 Republican primaries
2012 presidential election
Michele Bachmann Rick Santorum Mitt Romney Barack Obama $30[16][17]

Detailed results[edit]


George H. W. Bush won the first Iowa Straw Poll, which had low voter turnout, as well as the caucus itself, but Ronald Reagan won the Republican nomination.[18]


Source of results: Iowa Republican Party[19]

Place Candidate Votes Percentage
1 Pat Robertson 1,293 33.6%
2 Bob Dole 958 24.9%
3 George H. W. Bush 864 22.5%
4 Jack Kemp 520 13.5%
5 Pete duPont 160 4.2%
6 Alan Heslop 13 0.3%
7 Alexander Haig 12 0.3%
8 Ben Fernandez 8 0.2%
9 Others 15 0.4%
Total 3,843 100%

Pat Robertson won the 1987 Iowa Straw Poll. Despite finishing second in the Iowa Straw Poll, Bob Dole won the Iowa Caucus. Despite finishing third in the Iowa Straw Poll, George H. W. Bush won the Republican nomination and the presidency.[18][20]


Source of results: Iowa Republican Party[19]

Place Candidate Votes Percentage
1 (tie) Phil Gramm 2,582 24.4%
1 (tie) Bob Dole 2,582 24.4%
3 Pat Buchanan 1,922 18.1%
4 Lamar Alexander 1,156 10.9%
5 Alan Keyes 804 7.6%
6 Morry Taylor 803 7.6%
7 Richard Lugar 466 4.4%
8 Pete Wilson 129 1.2%
9 Bob Dornan 87 0.8%
10 Arlen Specter 67 0.6%
Total 10,958 100%

10,958 voters participated in the 1995 Iowa Straw Poll. Bob Dole and Phil Gramm won with a tie. Bob Dole won the Republican nomination.[18]


Sources of results: Iowa Republican Party,[19] PBS[21]

Place Candidate Votes Percentage
1 George W. Bush 7,418 31.3%
2 Steve Forbes 4,921 20.8%
3 Elizabeth Dole 3,410 14.4%
4 Gary Bauer 2,114 8.9%
5 Patrick Buchanan 1,719 7.3%
6 Lamar Alexander 1,428 6.0%
7 Alan Keyes 1,101 4.6%
8 Dan Quayle 916 3.9%
9 Orrin Hatch 558 2.4%
10 John McCain 83 0.4%
11 John Kasich 9 0.04%
12 Bob Smith 8 0.03%
Total 23,685 100%

A record 23,685 voters participated in the 1999 Iowa Straw Poll, held at the Hilton Coliseum.[18] 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 later emerged 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.[10]


Sources of results: CBS News,[22] Des Moines Register,[23] KCCI[24]

Place Candidate Votes Percentage
1 Mitt Romney 4,516 31.6%
2 Mike Huckabee 2,587 18.1%
3 Sam Brownback 2,192 15.3%
4 Tom Tancredo 1,961 13.7%
5 Ron Paul 1,305 9.1%
6 Tommy Thompson 1,039 7.3%
7 Fred Thompson 203 1.4%
8 Rudy Giuliani 183 1.3%
9 Duncan Hunter 174 1.2%
10 John McCain 101 0.7%
11 John H. Cox 41 0.3%
Total 14,302 100%

14,302 ballots were cast in the 2007 Iowa-StrawPollNoShows" [18]

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.[18][25] Mitt Romney won the straw poll, as had been widely predicted prior to the event.[11][23]

Tommy Thompson dropped out of the presidential campaign on August 12, 2007, one day after finishing in sixth place in the Iowa Straw Poll.[26][27][28]


From left, Santorum, Paul, McCotter, Cain, Bachmann

The 2011 Iowa Straw Poll was held on August 13, 2011, at the Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.

Sources of results: Washington Examiner and National Journal[29][30]

Place Candidate Votes Percentage
1 Michele Bachmann 4,823 28.6%
2 Ron Paul 4,671 27.7%
3 Tim Pawlenty 2,293 13.6%
4 Rick Santorum 1,657 9.8%
5 Herman Cain 1,456 8.6%
6 Rick Perry (write-in) 718 4.3%
7 Mitt Romney 567 3.4%
8 Newt Gingrich 385 2.3%
9 Jon Huntsman 69 0.4%
10 Thaddeus McCotter 35 0.2%
Scattering 218 1.30%
Total 16,892 100%

Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman were on the ballot but did not actively compete in the 2011 straw poll.[31] The day after the poll, on August 14, Tim Pawlenty announced his withdrawal from the race after his third-place finish.[32] 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.[33]


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.[34] On March 12, 2015, Boone was announced as the winning bidder, after a vote by GOP party board members.[35] 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.[36] On June 12, 2015, the Republican Party of Iowa announced that, as the result of a unanimous vote, the straw poll would no longer be held due to the decline in candidate support.[4]

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.[37] Ted Cruz went on to win the Iowa GOP caucuses, defeating Donald Trump by 4 percent, while Hillary Clinton defeated Bernie Sanders by less than 1 percent on the Democratic side.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hohmann, James (January 10, 2015). "Iowa straw poll: B-team only?". Retrieved May 4, 2015.
  2. ^ "Iowa Straw Poll likely to live on despite controversy". Des Moines Register. December 15, 2014. Retrieved August 20, 2015.
  3. ^ Dionne, E. J. Jr. (September 12, 1987). "In Iowa, Republicans Who Pay Their Money Can Vote Their Choice". The New York Times.
  4. ^ a b c "It's over: the end of the Iowa Straw Poll". NBC News. June 12, 2015. Retrieved June 12, 2015.
  5. ^ Abcarian, Robin (June 24, 2011). "Ron Paul outbids rivals for prime real estate at Iowa straw poll". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  6. ^ Emily Price, (August 8, 2011). "Excitement Builds Ahead Of Saturday's Straw Poll - Des Moines News Story - KCCI Des Moines". Archived from the original on March 22, 2012. Retrieved September 19, 2011.
  7. ^ Yagielski, Janine; Kathleen Hayden (August 15, 1999). "Bush wins Iowa GOP straw poll". CNN. Archived from the original on July 2, 2007. Retrieved July 23, 2007.
  8. ^ a b c d "Behind the Straw Poll". Online NewsHour. PBS. August 13, 1999. Retrieved July 23, 2007.
  9. ^ Isenstadt, Alex (November 9, 2020). "Republicans already racing to fill Trump power vacuum". Politico. Retrieved November 20, 2020.
  10. ^ a b c d MattC (April 26, 2007). "The Ames Straw Poll". Retrieved July 23, 2007.
  11. ^ a b Glover, Mike (August 11, 2007). "Romney Wins Iowa Straw Poll As Expected". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 11, 2007.
  12. ^ Balz, Dan (August 13, 2007). "Enough Already With the Straw Poll". Washington Post. Retrieved September 9, 2007.
  13. ^ Iowa governor: Straw poll 'outlived usefulness' USA Today. November 21, 2102.
  14. ^ Dorman, Todd (July 20, 2007). "Iowa Straw Poll Regaining Luster". Quad-City Times. Retrieved July 23, 2007.
  15. ^ Beaumont, Thomas (June 25, 2007). "Straw Poll Details Jell". Des Moines Register. Retrieved September 6, 2007.[permanent dead link]
  16. ^ "Sen. Rand Paul happy father did so well in straw poll". wpsdlocal6. August 15, 2011. Archived from the original on October 4, 2011. Retrieved August 15, 2011.
  17. ^ "Cost to vote in Ames Straw Poll: $30". MinnPost. August 3, 2011. Archived from the original on September 19, 2011. Retrieved September 19, 2011.
  18. ^ a b c d e f Beaumont, Thomas (June 18, 2007). "Straw poll No-Shows Zap Iowa's Relevance, Some Fear". Des Moines Register. Retrieved July 23, 2007.[permanent dead link]
  19. ^ a b c "Straw Poll Info" (PDF). Iowa Republican Party. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 2, 2008. Retrieved September 6, 2007.
  20. ^ Rothenburg, Stuart (May 21, 2007). "For Republicans, Iowa Straw Poll Could Offer Some Answers". The Rothenburg Political Report. Archived from the original on July 18, 2007. Retrieved July 23, 2007.
  21. ^ "The First GOP Test: Online NewsHour Coverage of the Iowa Straw Poll". Online NewsHour. PBS. Archived from the original on July 18, 2007. Retrieved July 23, 2007.
  22. ^ Ververs, Vaughn (August 11, 2007). "Romney Wins Iowa GOP Straw Poll". CBS News. Retrieved August 11, 2007.
  23. ^ a b Beaumont, Thomas; Jennifer Jacobs (August 11, 2007). "Romney Wins Straw Poll, Huckabee in 2nd". Des Moines Register. Retrieved August 11, 2007.
  24. ^ "Mitt Romney Wins Straw Poll". KCCI. August 12, 2007. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved August 12, 2007.
  25. ^ Cilliza, Chris (June 6, 2007). "Giuliani, McCain Skipping Ames Straw Poll". The Fix. The Washington Post. Retrieved July 23, 2007.
  26. ^ "Tommy Thompson Officially Ends Presidential Bid". The Boston Globe. August 13, 2007. Archived from the original on August 23, 2007. Retrieved September 6, 2007.
  27. ^ "Thompson Drops Out of Race After Poor Showing in Iowa Poll". PBS. August 13, 2007. Retrieved September 6, 2007.
  28. ^ Falcone, Michael (August 12, 2007). "Tommy Thompson Bows Out of Race". The Caucus. The New York Times. Retrieved September 6, 2007.
  29. ^ Bachmann wins Ames straw poll Archived November 13, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  30. ^ Kiely, Kathy (August 13, 2011). "Iowa Straw Poll: Complete Results - Hotline On Call". Archived from the original on November 4, 2011. Retrieved September 19, 2011.
  31. ^ Bachmann wins Iowa straw poll; Ron Paul is No. 2 McClatchy Newspapers. August 13, 2011.
  32. ^ "Tim Pawlenty Quits: Former Governor Drops Out Of Presidential Race". Huffington Post. August 14, 2011. Retrieved August 14, 2011.
  33. ^ Parker, Ashley (August 13, 2011). "Promising Better Direction, Perry Enters Race". The New York Times. Retrieved August 14, 2011.
  34. ^ Hohmann, James (February 13, 2015). "Iowa GOP may move straw poll to new venue amid bilking concerns". Politico. Retrieved March 1, 2015.
  35. ^ Jacbos, Jennifer (March 12, 2015). "Iowa Straw Poll is moving to Boone". The Des Moines Register. Retrieved March 12, 2015.
  36. ^ Disler, Matthew (June 11, 2015). "Iowa GOP to Again Weigh Fate of Straw Poll". RealClearPolitics. Retrieved September 26, 2015.
  37. ^ Richardson, Bradford (August 17, 2015). "Iowa State Fair attendees pick Sanders over Clinton". The Hill. Retrieved August 20, 2015.

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