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Ames straw poll

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Subject: Tommy Thompson, Tommy Thompson presidential campaign, 2008, United States presidential election, 2012 timeline, Iowa Republican caucuses, 2000
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Ames straw poll

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 takes place among attendees of a fundraising dinner benefiting the Iowa Republican Party. Before the vote, each candidate is given a chance 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 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).[1]

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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4] 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.[4]


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.[4] 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.[5] In 2007, instead of hand-stamping, thumbs were dipped in indelible ink.[6]

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.[7] 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.[5] 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.[8] 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." [9]


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[4][5]
August 11, 2007 2008 Republican primaries
2008 presidential election
Mitt Romney Mike Huckabee John McCain Barack Obama $35[10][11]
August 13, 2011 2012 Republican primaries
2012 presidential election
Michele Bachmann Rick Santorum Mitt Romney Barack Obama $30[12][13]

Detailed year-by-year results

August 1979

George H. W. Bush won the first Ames Straw Poll, which had low voter turnout, but Ronald Reagan would go on to win the Republican nomination.[14]

September 12, 1987 ("Cavalcade of Stars")

Source of results: Iowa Republican Party[15]

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 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.[14][16]

August 19, 1995

Source of results: Iowa Republican Party[15]

Place Candidate Votes Percentage
1 (tie) Bob Dole 2,582 24.4%
1 (tie) Phil Gramm 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 Ames Straw Poll. Bob Dole and Phil Gramm won with a tie. Bob Dole would go on to win the Republican nomination.[14]

August 14, 1999

Sources of results: Iowa Republican Party,[15] PBS[17]

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 Ames Straw Poll, held at the Hilton Coliseum.[14] 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.[5] 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

Sources of results: CBS News,[18] Des Moines Register,[19] KCCI [20]

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 Ames Straw Poll,[20] which took place on August 11 at Iowa State University.[14]

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.[14][21] Mitt Romney won the straw poll, as had been widely predicted prior to the event.[6][19]

Tommy Thompson dropped out of the presidential campaign on August 12, 2007, one day after finishing in sixth place in the Ames Straw Poll.[22][23][24]

August 13, 2011

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[25][26]

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%

The day after the poll, on August 14, Tim Pawlenty announced his withdrawal from the race after his third place finish.[27] 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.[28]

See also


External links

  • 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
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