When Is a Poll NOT a Poll?

Answer: When it is the Ames Straw Poll

Anyone following politics watches the poll numbers. Major news sources conduct their own polls and make headline news simply by reporting the results of their polls. For many of us we consider the source of the information, and the methodology used to conduct the poll. The reason we are intrigued about the results of a poll is that IF the poll is valid, it would be an indication of the popularity of a politician. A poll is simply a number of votes cast or recorded. Obviously, a poll is only a reflection of the actual popularity of a candidate if the poll is honest and fair. Typically we think of people voting in polls of their own free will and with no hidden agenda. We don’t think of people voting in polls due to coercion or to accomplish a personal goal. Therein lies the problem with the Ames Straw Poll.

The Ames Straw poll in Iowa is a presidential poll taken by Iowa Republicans. It is held in the early fall before the presidential cycles, and is supposed to be a “first indicator” of the strength of a candidate’s “organization and message.” The first problem with the Ames Straw “Poll” is that people have to PAY to vote. This year a fee of $30.00 was paid by each and every person voting. Additionally candidates are not prohibited from paying people to vote. Because the money raised goes to support the Republican Party in Iowa, there is an argument to be made that it actually helps the party by causing people to give money to the party, regardless of the reason. After all, candidates who are unable to raise money, or get media attention will likely not prevail in the general election.

In 2007 about 450 reporters covered the Ames Straw Poll. . This year the number of reporters covering the event almost doubled, being 800. Thus the headlines from this poll would appear in media sources across the nation. The headlines from this year’s poll announced that Michele Bachmann “won” the poll. Mission Accomplished. Bachmann “won” the poll, and garnered a significant amount of media attention. Americans like to be associated with a “winner” and now Bachmann is identified as a “winner”. Who needs to read beyond the headlines? Who cares how she won?

The truth is that Bachmann won by buying most of the votes cast for her. Michele Bachmann spent close to $1,000,000 to pay for over 6,000 tickets for people to see Randy Travis, a popular country and western singer. She even paid to bus 152 Travis fans to the fair to see one of their favorite singers. The only price of admission was to “vote” for Michele Bachmann.

Thus the Ames Staw “Poll” was more of an indicator of the popularity of Randy Travis than any politician. It is also an indication of the willingness of Michele Bachmann to do any and everything to get elected. If she gets the Republican nomination, maybe she’ll adopt a Down’s syndrome baby from a lesbian couple to gain attention for her anti-abortion, anti-homosexual platforms.

20 thoughts on “When Is a Poll NOT a Poll?

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    1. Lars,
      Thanks for the link. It just reinforces what we knew about Bachmann, and surely there won’t be enough support for her to get her the Republican nomination!


    2. What a great summary of Bachmann’s rhetoric. Bachmann is dangerous because she LIES and does not get called on it. Shameful. (Of course this same comment could be made of Palin too. They really are crazy ‘sisters.’)


    3. Well they’ve kept many of Paylin’s secrets safe so I presume Bachmann will be able to work around one of the highest ‘pants on fire’ records ever awarded by PolitiFacts, a non-partisan site no less.

      If she’s asked she can always repeat the tired “I’m running for the office of Presidency, NOT to talk about my clothing choices”.


  1. You might want to check your math 6,000 x $30 is $180,000, not $1,000,000. Even taken into consideration the tickets for 152 people to see the show it would not be anywhere near one million dollars.


    1. add in some ‘bus fare’ and lodging for a few hundred, maybe an additional talent fee to Mr Travis over and above the Fair’s payment for ‘endorsement’, payments to her own entourage plus per diem and maybe you get closer to the mil. She waltzed in with her own blaring music, must of had to pay a royalty to the “King of Rock and Roll” estate. There’s a lot of overhead in selling a fantasy dream, doncha know.


  2. I can’t I am surprised… more like shocked she is so blatantly buying votes.

    Do you know if the other candidates (Ron Paul for example) was putting on this kind of show? I would expect a “visit our booth for free hotdogs – and please vote for me” kind of soft campaigning, but Michelle went WAY over that line.


  3. Malia,
    That was very informative! I am shocked to learn that people have to pay to “vote”! And I love knowing that Sarah got NO votes!


    1. GG from Cincy,
      Me too! Regardless of who paid for what votes, and who won, it does demonstrate one thing which is that Palin must be running out of cash, if she couldn’t afford to pay anyone to write in her name. Maybe the movie tickets to the Undefeated exhausted her PAC money?


  4. Shouldn’t the media people retract their headlines and show Randy Travis as the winner. I’m surprised Fox News wasn’t all over this. Or is Bachmann their new pinup presidential candidate?


    1. aj,
      I understand Glen Beck has endorsed Bachmann, so she may be their new pinup! Especially because of the pictures just posted, I think you may be on to something!


  5. Malia: Great research. I wonder how many “rill american’s” knew these points you raised. Outside of Iowa I mean. Its simply BRIBERY.


  6. YIKES. It’s one thing to speak of politicians “buying our votes” and meaning it metaphorically. It’s quite another to be having this happen under our noses for real. This is proof that Iowa poll brings out the Fringe. Bachmann is in for a rude awakening outside of the Bible belt.


  7. But there isn’t anything actually wrong with this, exactly. It’s nothing more than a private party, a hoedown thrown by the Iowa Republican caucus.

    It’s us, the public, who apply meaning to it. It’s US who make it part of the election “process” and gift it with significance, view it as validation of candidates. WE are perceiving that way. WE are giving it meaning.

    Case in point. Sarah Palin’s “80% approval rating in Alaska.” NEVER HAPPENED. Really and truly, Palin AT NO TIME, ever, had 80% of the people in the state of Alaska (or registered voters or any other way you want to describe it), approve of her.

    Easy to understand. There was a survey. It was delivered to a specifically defined group of 400 Alaskans:
    1.) Had to own a working landline.
    2.) Voted in at least two of the last four local or state elections.

    There were actually several of the same survey done over the summer months, June to October.

    So here’s what happened. They ended up with a sample that was artificially skewed to a particular demographic. And they indeed knew what the profile of a respondent was – Caucasian, married couples over the age of 45, Christian, urban and road-system residents.

    That’s it. They knew that. Their survey eliminated from the “random” sample of respondents:
    > Anyone using cell phone as a primary phone.
    > The stipulation about voting in at least two of the last four elections eliminated an entire age group, 18 to 20 year-olds, up to about 25. In other words, pretty much all university students.
    > Anyone moved to Alaska within the last two years, for any reason including military, professionals, students, temporary duty staff, nurses, doctors, etc.

    Then there’s the folks eliminated from the sample by attrition:
    > Those engaged in the Alaska seafood industry – all away from the landline in the summer months.
    > Those engaged in tourism and on remote-site duty. Many many people away from the primary residence – up in Denali park, guiding, boat tour operators, Alaska Marine Highway employees, state and federal park employees, tour bus drivers, chauffeurs, hotel staff, etc.
    > People taking advantage of Alaska’s summer months and kids out of school for recreation/subsistence pursuits. MOST people out of the house, out camping, fishing, backcountry, at summer cabins, June through October.
    > A built-in population “weighting”. In order to get the most “accurate” sample, they eliminated participants (“random sample”) by community. In other words, they tried to adjust for urban and rural population. When I read the methodology, they had eliminated people living in remote villages, because the bulk of the population in Alaska lives in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and in highway corridor communities like Soldotna and Glennallen.

    I did a pointed targeted informal sample of my own. In the past two years, I cannot find even one person, in all of my large circle of extended family and friends, from many Alaska communities, who were part of the random sample of 400 Alaskans during the summer 2008 Sarah Palin surveys.

    And once again, there’s been a recent survey in the past few weeks. Nobody I know was sampled. Nobody got that phone call. But apparently, given the choice between Obama and Sarah Palin, 50% of Alaskans will vote for Sarah Palin in 2012.

    Uh huh.
    Now there’s a badly-designed faulty survey if there ever was one.

    Confidence level for Alaska research groups? ZERO.


  8. What the new survey tells me is that 55% of the urban White Christian married couples that supported her in 2008, have changed their minds. Only 25% of them will vote for her over Obama (gosh, do you think they were predominantly Republican Party-affiliated, too? By the way, Alaska has that weird twisted party-specific ballot thing).

    So doing the math –
    In 2008, 320 Alaskans had a “positive impression” of Sarah Palin, to varying degrees. All of the options were added together: slightly, somewhat, mostly, very, etc etc. So the 320 includes those that had a “slightly positive” impression. The June 2011 survey – 25% of 500 “likely voters” is 125 people. So she lost 195 supporters.

    Here is the only proper accurate interpretation of the 2011 survey data:
    Of the roughly 400,000 adults that live in Alaska, _125 “likely voters”_ feel strongly that they would vote for Sarah Palin if the election was today.



  9. Malia, thanks for the additional info on how Bachmann’s people bought votes. I had seen an earlier article that said her campaign paid for 4,000 tickets, but it left out the Randy Travis angle. I used that info to rip the whole event in a letter to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Two hours later I received an email that it was being considered for publication. I’ll send a link if they use it.


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