Jeb Bush To Skip Pointless Iowa Straw Poll

Jeb Bush will not participate in this year's version of the Iowa Straw Poll.


Jeb Bush is making some news with his decision to skip the Iowa Straw Poll:

No Iowa Straw Poll for Jeb Bush.

The likely Republican presidential candidate will instead attend a competing event, the RedState Gathering in Atlanta, the day of the Iowa event, GOP sources in Iowa told The Des Moines Register on Tuesday. A spokesman for Bush confirmed the report.

Bush, a former Florida governor, is the first among the Republican 2016 presidential field to officially opt out of the straw poll, a nationally renowned event that has drawn significant criticism over the years.

The Republican Party of Iowa, which hosts the Iowa Straw Poll, has been working to shore up the event’s reputation and lure candidates by addressing some of the most prevalent complaints. Last week, Iowa GOP officials announced they’ll provide free tent space and utilities for the campaigns. The straw poll has been bashed as having outsized importance, even to the point of having losing candidates drop out of the race. Campaigns sometimes spend hundreds of thousands of dollars at the straw poll as a sort of dry run for the Iowa caucuses.

But for the GOP presidential contenders, whether to compete in the straw poll is more of a risk-reward analysis. For those who compete, the aim is to do better than expected. This cycle, some contenders have said, they intend to focus instead on the caucuses, which will take place in precincts across the state on Feb. 1.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann told the Register: “We hope Governor Bush rethinks his decision and realizes that grass-roots will only grow in Iowa if he waters them. The RedState Gathering is a four-day event, and other candidates have already indicated that they will be attending both. We don’t buy this excuse and neither will Iowans.”

Bush for months has been considered a likely abstainer. His rivals tried to raise expectations for him, arguing he had a recipe for a strong showing because he hired top strategists and because Iowa has a long-standing Bush network that should benefit him. Bush’s brother won the straw poll in 1999 and his father won it in 1979

But polling has shown that Iowa isn’t exactly friendly territory for Bush. In a Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa Poll from late January, 43 percent of likely Republican caucusgoers rated Bush as mostly or very unfavorable, the second worst after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

More recently, Bush ranked in seventh place out of 14 GOP contenders tested in a April 25-May 4 Quinnipiac University poll. When Quinnipiac asked likely GOP caucusgoers whether there is any candidate they would definitely not support, 25 percent named Bush. Bush was at the top of that negative list.

After the 2011 Straw Poll, which saw Michelle Bachmann and Ron Paul finish in the top two spots and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty drop out of the race due to his disappointing performance, there were calls from many observers to bring an end to the process. Perhaps the strongest of those voices came from Iowa’s Republican Governor Terry Branstad, who argued in November 2012 that the tradition had outlived its usefulness. In reality, of course, the Straw Poll had never really was very useful, assuming that you measured its usefulness by any correlation between the winner of the poll and the winner of either the Iowa Caucuses or the Republican nomination. Of the six occasions when a competitive poll has been held since the first in 1979, the winner of the poll has won the Caucuses three times (although in 1988 Bob Dole tied in the poll with Phil Gramm) and the winner of the poll has won the GOP nomination twice (again including Dole in 1988). (Source) -While this is a fairly limited universe of results from which to draw a conclusion, it certainly doesn’t create any sense of confidence in the poll as a predictor of anything at all. This isn’t surprising, of course, considering that the number of people who participate in the poll is smaller even than the number of people who participate in the caucuses, and that their ability has traditionally been secured via tickets that the campaigns pay for, Despite this fact, the poll has been given far more coverage than it deserves by the media and, as we saw in 2012, it has had the effect of boosting campaigns that have no real shot of winning while dooming those that could have been promising. Based on all of that, there’s really no reason to continue the poll.

As I noted during the last election cycle when there was talk of ending the poll, though, the Iowa Straw Poll has never really been primarily about providing any kind of objective test of the strength of the candidates. Instead, it has primarily served as a fundraising tool for the Iowa Republican Party, both through the sale of the tickets needed to cast a vote in the poll and in the sale of the spaces that candidates use to woo supporters with food and entertainment, Four years ago, for example, former Michigan Congressman Thad McCotter, who ran a short, odd, and ultimately quixotic campaign for the Presidency that barely lasted two months, paid $18,000 for the prime spot at the Ames fairgrounds where the candidates set up their spaces. The other candidates who participated paid less that that, but still paid at least several thousand dollars per candidate. Because of this, the Straw Poll has long been the biggest fundraiser for the state party. Given that, there was simply no way it was going to be eliminated.

There have been some changes to the poll, though. For one thing, the location has changed from the Iowa State Fair Grounds in Ames to Boone, Iowa, a town about a half hour away from Des Moines and the home of the Central Iowa Expo. Additionally, the procedures of the poll have been changed significantly so that there will no longer be bidden for tent space, a move that will save campaigns tens of thousands of dollars that in the past has gone to outside vendors rather than the party. The party will still charge for the tickets needed to cast  a vote in the poll, of course, so that will still be a factor that makes the poll even less reliable than a normal straw poll. Nonetheless, it seems apparent that the Iowa GOP wants to change the reputation of the poll after the debacle of 2012.

Some might questions Bush’s decision to skip the poll even after taking all the flaw into account. However, it seems fairly clear that he has everything to lose, and nothing to win, if he shows up since whatever showing he gets will likely be spun as a disappointment, Furthermore, Bush likely remembers that Mitt Romney skipped the poll four years ago and it didn’t harm his campaign in the least. Romney’s decision back then was motivated by many of the same factors that are likely influencing Bush’s campaign this time around, and the decision makes as much sense for him as it did for Romney. Bush’s campaign has its own problems, but skipping a pointless straw poll isn’t going to add to them to any significant degree.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Rafer Janders says:

    “Jeb Bush To Skip Pointless November 2016 Election” would be an even better headline. At this point, all these bozoes are competing for is who’s going to be at the wheel of the clown car when it finally heads into the ditch.

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Rafer Janders: I wish I could be as confident as you. Then again, maybe the clown car you are speaking of is the country?

  3. Rafer Janders says:


    I wish I could be as confident as you.

    Confidence has nothing to do with it, it’s just math. Clinton will start the race with something like 242 electoral votes in the bag, out of 270 needed to win. For the Republicans to triumph, they’d need to run the board, winning every single toss-up state. Barring a change in how Electoral College votes are allocated, there are very few credible avenues for the GOP to reach 270.

  4. al-Ameda says:

    This is the first sensible thing Jeb has done in a long time.

  5. Gustopher says:

    Knowing what we know now, does Jeb Bush think it was a mistake for his brother to participate in the Iowa Staw Poll in 2000?

  6. JohnMcC says:

    Mr Erickson is using the unpopularity of the Iowa event to flex some muscle of his own within the party. Wonder what’s up with that? Seriously. Anybody thought about what’s going on intra-party-wise?

  7. michael reynolds says:

    Iowa will go to one of the nuts, probably Huckabee. Rand Paul will probably come in second. So the race was probably for third place between Bush, Walker and Rubio. The Huckabee and Paul votes will be dismissed by the media and the pundit class, the race will be for the “grown-up” slot. With Bush out it’s Walker vs. Rubio. If either does well in Iowa and can carry momentum into New Hampshire, Bush may be done for.

    Bush will have money enough, but Walker will be the Koch brother’s employees, and Rubio may have Adelson’s vice money, so cash alone won’t drive them out. Up next is South Carolina, and they like aszholes (being a state inhabited by same), so Walker could take that. Then Nevada, and Adelson’s support could give that to Rubio.

    So where does that leave Mr. Bush? Quite possibly winless going into Super Tuesday? Colorado, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, North Carolina. Where is Jeb’s firewall? Texas? Virginia?

  8. Trumwill says:

    The “Blue Wall” is mostly just a way of saying “Republicans need a roughly 6 point swing” sound mathematical, sciencey, and more definitive than it is. Not that six points is easy, of course, but it’s far from impossible.

    Of course, the Blue Wall theory has it that the 6% wouldn’t and couldn’t come from swing states, and would have to disproportionately come from already-friendly territory. That could be right, and he could need more than six… but I actually believe it’s the other way around, I think such a swing would come slighly disproportionately from purpose states, and that really only 5% or so would carry the GOP over. Maybe less.

  9. grumpy realist says:

    Jebbie is still trying to get his foot out of his mouth. Now he’s hiding between Teh Troops.

  10. grumpy realist says: