The Iowa Straw Poll is a widely watched event in American politics. It is held in Ames, Iowa in any year when the Republican nomination for President is undecided. Essentially, it is an early test of the viability of Republican candidates; some candidates who have won the Iowa Straw Poll have gone on to win the nomination and the ultimate election. Some people consider the event to be one of the first major landmarks in the Presidential election process. It traditionally takes place on a Saturday in August, often in conjunction with the Iowa State Fair.
Fund raising and publicity are the primary goals of the Iowa Straw Poll, which is organized by the Iowa Republican Party. The poll takes place at a fund raising dinner, and each voter must pay a small fee to vote. These fees support the Iowa Republican Party, and may ultimately help to fund a Presidential campaign as well. Each candidate makes a brief speech at the dinner, and then the voters cast their votes for the best candidate. You do not need to be a Republican to participate in the event, although you do need to be an Iowa citizen of voting age.
Republicans seek to win the Iowa Straw Poll because it provides a burst of publicity and energy for their campaign at an early stage. The Iowa Caucus, another important political event, can be influenced by the outcome of the Iowa Straw Poll, so candidates want to show a strong backing in the Midwestern state. The winner of the poll can use the results to feed a publicity tour throughout the Midwest, drumming up support and funding from other voters.
The events at the Iowa Straw Poll are also a show of power, demonstrating how many supporters a candidate can round up. Many candidates pay for voters to be bussed to the event, essentially buying their votes, which is perfectly legal since the Iowa Straw Poll is not a legally binding event, only an unofficial vote. Some candidates choose to forgo the Iowa Straw Poll, which can weaken their campaigns.
The event has been held since 1979, when George Bush Sr. won the Iowa Straw Poll and the Iowa Caucus, only to be beaten out for the Republican nomination by Ronald Reagan. In both 1995 and 1999, the winner of the Iowa Straw Poll also secured the Republican nomination for President. It is important for people not to lend too much credence to the results of the Iowa Straw Poll, as the nomination process for Presidential candidates is quite complex. Numerous factors will contribute to the eventual nomination, including an important series of primary elections and caucuses throughout the nation.