Steffen Schmidt, IAFC Blogger
Steffen W. Schmidt, University Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Iowa State University, WNYC blogger, and chief Political correspondent of Insider Iowa.
This week, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, a Republican, said that it's time to kill off his party's Ames Straw Poll. Held every four years in the summer before the Iowa caucuses, the poll is both a party fundraiser and an initial measure of popularity among the primary field. Branstand says the poll has outlived its function. I couldn't disagree more.
Here's why: The summer before the Iowa caucuses - as well every summer, for that matter - is a dead zone for news. The Straw Poll gives the national media a huge attraction, the poll is a fun event that everyone who has ever attended it enjoys, and it brings some nice cash to the Republican Party.
We all know that it is not a scientific event where GOP candidates for president are actually tested - in 2011, Michele Bachmann won the straw poll, and then proceeded to flame out during the debates. I also don’t recall Mitt Romney doing very well in the poll.
But like Woodstock it’s a great media event. There are bands, candidates rent exhibit space, everyone compares the quality of the barbeque or fried chicken that’s being catered by each contender. There are short speeches and lists of candidate talking points and issue positions. The weather is spectacular and fun is had by one and all. Kill it? No!
Instead I recommend that Iowa Democrats also hold a straw poll ever four years on exactly the same date so that we can have an event during the straw poll called "Dueling Polls." How fun would that be?!
I would organize a candidate debate with names drawn at random. Can you imagine in 2016 Michelle Bachmann debating Joe Biden, or Chris Christie debating Hillary Clinton? What would fill Hilton Coliseum better than THAT show? Certainly not the celebrated Lincoln-Douglas debates.
Kill the Straw Poll? I say you might as well kill the Iowa State Fair! It's an Iowa icon now and a part of the American presidential selection tradition. I believe in tradition.
Would the governor of New Hampshire suggest killing off Dixsville Notch the first in the nation polling station to report the Presidential vote every four years? Why the governor would be tarred and feathered and ridden out of the Granite State. Why this charming village, actually The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel, located on a 15,000 acre lot in the dramatic mountains 20 miles from the Canadian border. This midnight vote count of the 10 or so voters is unbearably fun. New Hampshire law allows a precinct to report results as soon as all the registered voters in that precinct have voted.
Keep and strengthen the Ames Straw Poll. Maybe even change Iowa law so that some tiny Iowa village can also report results at midnight on election day. That way we also get the early morning news buzz! Sorry Gov. Branstad, but "GO! Ames Straw Poll 2016" is my new bumper sticker.