Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Results Are In - But Do They Matter?

Bachmann Wins Ames Straw Poll 

Just announced, Michelle Bachmann has won the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa, taking first place with 4823 votes and becoming the first woman to do so. With 4671 votes, second place goes to Ron Paul while third goes to Tim Pawlenty with 2293 votes. Mitt Romney and Rick Perry did not participate (the latter being a little late to the game) but they took 567 and 718 votes, respectively. So what does it all mean? 

Any discussion of the Ames Straw Poll should rightly start by pointing out that it has only been conducted five times in the past, so there’s not all that much precedent to rely upon. On the other hand, since the event began in 1979, the candidate winning the Iowa Caucus has placed first or second in the straw poll every time. And the Caucus, with a longer track record, is a pretty fair indicator of who gets the party nomination.

So, if the Straw Poll changes anything, it is that it spells out definitely exactly what chances Bachmann has for the Iowa Caucus and/or the GOP Primary. Three of the five prior winners have taken the first nod, and two of five the second. Using napkin math, that puts Bachmann's chances of winning one or the other at 50/50, meaning she is imminently viable.

The headline question is going to be repeated over and over in the next week. I expect at least some of those parrots will really be asking, will the Straw Poll put more money in the Bachmann coffers? It's hard to imagine that it won't. Surely there is a bit of tit-for-tat mentality amongst some Republicans that says, "Democrats got the first black man in the White House. Fine. We'll put the first woman in." This relatively minor win by Bachmann will no doubt encourage that.

What is somewhat noteworthy is Ron Paul's rise from fifth to second place from the last Straw Poll to this one. In my estimation, he has exhausted a lot of capital to make those gains, so the trail of his success ends here or soon after. Still, it is a likely reflection of a far more rightward shift amongst Iowa Republicans than the general slate of candidates would otherwise indicate.

Don't expect Pawlenty to drop out so anytime soon. George H.W. Bush came in third in his Straw Poll and ultimately took the White House--albeit under very different circumstances. But given the present political climate, I expect the Republican side of things take a shape more similar to the election cycles in 1995 or 1999, the two years where the Straw Poll winner took both the Caucus and the Primaries, and in 1999, the White House as well.

Of course, this is the second Straw Poll in a row where one or more of the frontrunners have decided to throw the results by not participating. So there's that to contend with. By all accounts, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry are those front runners. But to me they seem like two objects that cannot occupy the same space at the same time. That is to day, I expect them to pull more voters off of each other than off of the other fielders leading up to the primaries.

The other question already being asked is whether the Ames Straw Poll even matters. I need much less space to answer that: they probably shouldn't, but they do.

[Update: Pawlenty wasted no time in proving my guess about him wrong. Oh well.]

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