The Iowa Straw Poll Is Finally, Mercifully, Dead

After 36 years, the quadrennial absurdity of the Iowa Straw Poll is dead.


After thirty-six years of what had come to be a very odd history, the Iowa Republican Party has voted to end the quadrennial Iowa Straw Poll:

The Iowa Straw Poll is dead.

The governing board for the Republican Party of Iowa voted unanimously Friday to cancel the straw poll, a milestone on the path to the White House that had passed the strategic tipping point. It was no longer a political risk for presidential campaigns to walk away from the straw poll, and too many of the 2016 contenders had opted to skip it for it to survive.

For GOP activists in Iowa, the summertime political festival was a beloved tradition that dated to 1979, but its fate rested in the hands of the presidential campaigns, who drove attendance by spending resources to haul in their supporters.

Several key contenders — Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee — had decided against dishing out the big bucks it can take to win. Party officials needed at least one legitimate player to participate, but the Iowa frontrunner, Scott Walker, declined to commit.

Ample cover for skipping the straw poll was delivered by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who had declared at the end of the 2012 presidential election that it had “outlived its usefulness.” And a recent Iowa Poll showed that while a slight majority of likely GOP caucusgoers thought it was important for presidential candidates to participate in the straw poll, almost as many dismissed it as unimportant.

In recent weeks, party officials had concluded that the much-criticized party fundraiser could potentially damage Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.


The decision comes as the party fundraiser appeared to be on the verge of falling flat because so many presidential contenders were steering clear of it. Some candidates had said they might show up to give a speech, but wouldn’t spend money trying to win the straw poll. That meant the fundraiser would likely have struggled to break even, much less garnered hundreds of thousands for the party as it has in the past.

This result seemed to be inevitable given the fact that  Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, and Marco Rubio had already announced that they would not be participating in the event, and that Scott Walker was hinting that he might do the same. To a large degree, the fate of the event was set in stone four years ago with the top two showing by  Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, two candidates who everyone knew had no realistic chance of winning either the Iowa Caucuses or the nomination. In the wake of that event, Governor Brandstad had led Iowa Republicans who were arguing that the poll had outlived its usefulness, but even his outsized influence inside the Hawkeye State’s Republican Party wasn’t enough to end the spectacle. Instead, party leaders tried to reimagine the straw poll by moving it away from the Iowa State Fair in Ames to a more rural locale, but that did nothing to address the substantive criticisms that many people outside and inside Iowa had against the event and the way it had come to have far too much influence on the Republican nomination process.

The party will lose from this decision, of course, since the straw poll was one of their biggest fundraisers. At the same time, though, because of the fact that it was leading people to discredit the political process in the state to begin with I think the state GOP was well-founded to conclude that continuing the tradition could have had an adverse impact on the state’s first in the nation status in the Presidential primary process. In all honesty, of course, that status ought to be challenged given the fact that Iowa is hardly representative of the nation as a whole and that caucuses are the worst possibly way to conduct a primary. That battle, though, will have to wait until another day.  The end of the straw poll is also arguably a loss for low tier candidates who might have hoped to use a better than expected performance in the event to boost their national profile, something that may have been more likely to happen with nearly all of the top tier candidates skipping the event completely. For the nation as a whole, though, ending this absurd spectacle is nothing but a good thing.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
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. Gustopher says:

    Who cares about a meaningless straw poll from a meaningless party? The Republican Party has outlived its usefulness because of all the brown people sneaking over the border and being granted immediate cItizenship for their anchor babies. We will have a one party state and white people will not be invited to party.

    Just thought I would try to give superdestroyer a running start on this thread.

  2. Gustopher says:

    Actually, I think this year the straw poll would have had some value — it could have winnowed the field of crazies. If all the semiplausable candidates skip, that leaves about 12 others, competing for bragging rights about who can bring out the most crazies.

    He straw poll could have chopped the crazy portion of the field down from 12 or so to 5 or so.

  3. Pinky says:

    This is heartbreaking news, but I’ll get through it – it’s only 233 days until the 2016 NFL Pro Bowl!

  4. Mr. Prosser says:

    @Gustopher: “Actually, I think this year the straw poll would have had some value — it could have winnowed the field of crazies.” Frankly I don’t want the field winnowed, I want press on every one of them for as long as possible.

  5. Anonne says:

    The straw poll had the useful effect of knocking out Tim Pawlenty in the ’12 election. Something like it should take its place.

  6. Kylopod says:


    Actually, I think this year the straw poll would have had some value — it could have winnowed the field of crazies.

    It didn’t have quite that effect last time. It basically killed off the candidacy of Pawlenty, one of the few non-crazy candidates in the race. (Like Romney, of course, he was certainly pandering to the crazies, like when he proposed to re-de-gayify the military.) That left open a void that quickly got filled by the likes of Bachmann (who won the poll), Perry, Cain, Gingrich, and Santorum.

    I’m not saying that sort of situation would have been repeated this time, especially after the three leading candidates skipped it, but my point is that the effect it has on the race can be a bit unpredictable.

  7. Jim says:

    Good, the Iowa straw poll is dead, now to kill the Iowa caucus.

  8. ernieyeball says: to kill the Iowa caucus.

    How will that be realized?

  9. superdestroyer says:


    Good use of snark in the effort to keep people from noticing how irrelevant the Republicans are and how unimportant the entire Republican primary is.

    Why are people putting so much effort paying attention to a process where the only outcome is to determine who will lose the the Democratic Party nominee in a rout

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    that Iowa is hardly representative of the nation as a whole

    I have heard this for ever and a day and can no longer resist stating that it is the most inane criticism imaginable.

    -There is no such state in the USofA.-

    That is why we have a series of primaries covering the entirety of the US, and believe it or not, somebody has to be first. Any argument against Iowa being first can be used against any other state. Saying caucuses are stupid is not an argument against Iowa being first, it is an argument against caucuses, and for primaries.