US Political news this week is almost exclusively focused on this Saturday’s Iowa Straw Poll. In talking with friends, it quickly became evident that few understand what, exactly, the Iowa Straw Poll is. Many had it confused with the caucus (Iowa’s version of a primary) while others thought it was where the Republican Party Leaders chose their candidate. Not only is it a completely non-binding vote, but only one candidate has ever gone from winning the Iowa Straw Poll to winning the Republican nomination. In reality, the Straw Poll is simply the largest Republican party fundraiser in Iowa.
In 1999 23,000 people paid $25 each to participate in the Ames Straw Poll. That’s a cool half-million dollars to start with. This year they’re expecting 40,000 people at $35 each, or a cool $1.4 million. But that’s not the half of it. Every candidate interested in participating is required to rent a 45,000 sq. ft. space, tents, tables, and chairs. They also typically provide food, entertainment, and even polling tickets to their supporters. As if that wasn’t enough, despite assurances from the Iowa Republican Party that this year’s poll will be “fraud-proof”, they still want to charge the Ron Paul campaign $184,000 to verify a paper count of the ballots being cast. That’s more than $4 for each individual ballot!