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August 11, 2007


by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math

Upon hearing that Mitt Romney won today's Ames vote buying contest straw poll with only 31% of the vote, my first reaction was, "wow, that's a rather low total. the combination of Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee would have defeated Romney." But then I went and looked at previous results. In 1995, Bob Dole (R-KS) and Phil Gramm (R-TX) finished in an exact tie with 23.6%. In 1999, George W. Bush, who by all accounts was the only serious GOP candidate other than McCain (who literally wasn't on the ballot), won with the exact same total. In 1987, Pat Robertson took 33.6% of the vote. His 13.5% margin of victory is actually the largest margin of the last four contested straw polls. So Romney appears to have fared about as well as, if not slightly better than, other straw poll winners by historical standards.

I doubt that the 33.4% earned by Brownback and Huckabee means very much; the straw poll is mostly a matter of brute force. After all, no one thought the 35% earned by Steve Forbes and Liddy Dole (!) in 1999 represented a strong "anybody but Dubya" contingent in the GOP.

I will note that turnout was pleasantly low, or perhaps depressingly low if you're a Republican. Turnout is down 40% since 1999. If 40% of hardcore conservatives can't bring themselves to vote for a Republican in November, it's not going to be close.

—signed, not Ezra Klein, dagnabbit

August 11, 2007 | Permalink


Barring something fairly dramatic, the Democratic primary nomination pretty much IS the '08 election at this point.

Posted by: Anthony Damiani | Aug 11, 2007 11:05:44 PM

I wondered how Ron Paul would do. He's carrying the anti-war banner on the Republican side, but may not appeal for other reasons. 5th place with 9% would be respectable, but it's not very good considering how well differentiated he is from the others. And that he came in behind Tancredo.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 11, 2007 11:13:01 PM

the Democratic primary nomination pretty much IS the '08 election at this point.



Posted by: Jason G. | Aug 11, 2007 11:16:50 PM

Anthony's comment is an example of how we lost power in the first place. Democrats got cocky because we were in the majority so long and so we started to act like Clinton.

Posted by: akaison | Aug 11, 2007 11:17:15 PM

I don't think Anthony's too far off, although I think the only real way he could be wrong is if the Democratic nominee turns out to be into bestiality or something. Sanpete expresses it best with what I assume to be his confusion: Republicans are not, in fact, anti-war, but are still primarily cheerleaders. It's emblematic of their disconnection with the political current. Ron Paul doesn't appeal for that reason and honestly almost that reason alone. His no-taxes stand should be popular, and supporting abortion and gays hasn't stopped Rudy.

Now, on another note, the raw data makes me curious. Is there any data on why respondents voted for Romney?

Posted by: Glenn Fayard | Aug 11, 2007 11:28:36 PM

Fer REAL - it is not smart to be counting chickens right about now. I haven't seen any polls indicating a Democratic blowout in 2008. Head-to-head matchups show all the major candidates running roughly even with one another.

The last four elections have been very close, and the next one could easily be the same way. Nobody knows what is going to happen, and anyone who says otherwise is kidding you or themselves.

I agree that the Democrats are positioned about as well as they could hope for. But there are too many wild cards to predict the outcome:

- Will terrorism/fear-mongering deliver another election to the GOP, or is that trick a spent force?

- If Rudy is the nominee, how will having two pro-choice candidates affect the dynamics of the race?

- Is Hillary capable of winning over people who don't like her?

- If Obama is the nominee, is this country really going to elect a black man president? If Hillary, a woman?

- If Romney is the candidate, will conservative Christians have a problem voting for a Mormon? Will Southerners vote for the former governor of Massachusetts?

Etc. etc. I have my own answers to all these questions, but it's just speculation on my part. All of these questions and many others are fundamentally uncertain, and therefore render the outcome of the election uncertain.

Posted by: Jason G. | Aug 11, 2007 11:41:37 PM

Is there any data on why respondents voted for Romney?

I think it's just that he was the only major candidate participating.

Posted by: Jason G. | Aug 11, 2007 11:43:27 PM

If 40% of hardcore conservatives can't bring themselves to vote for a Republican in November, it's not going to be close.

Be very, VERY wary of complacency. We cannot afford to take this election even slightly for granted.

Posted by: fiat lux | Aug 12, 2007 12:41:28 AM

The most startling statistic to me was Tancredo's finish, not too far behind Huckabee and Brownback! Considering he's not just a one issue candidate, but a rather small minded bigot to boot I would have expected at least a couple of the other "name" candidates (Giuliani, McCain) to fare better.

Tancredo's hefty percentage of the poll speaks volumes about the kind of people that occupy the Republican party.

Posted by: tom.a | Aug 12, 2007 12:56:19 AM

wow, with the election wrapped up, wtf is the reason to vote for clinton? jesus.

Posted by: yoyo | Aug 12, 2007 1:03:47 AM


It's unlikely that the Supreme Courts reads this blog.

Wasn't able to tell what you thought I was confused about, Glenn. More than 9% of Republicans favor withdrawal from Iraq, but that isn't translating into support for Paul, who's a little nuts even for Republicans. He's against international trade organizations, our trade treaties, the income tax, the UN (and he talks about the UN trying to tax us), etc. He's also anti-capital punishment, which isn't a popular stance for Republicans.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 12, 2007 2:08:59 AM

Turnout may have been down because three of the "top" tier candidates did not run so that their supporters may have stayed home. I wouldn't over-interpret the turnout numbers (or any of the numbers here.)

Posted by: Elm | Aug 12, 2007 8:57:11 AM

It's not merely a matter of complacency. It is also the hubris of saying we have it in the bag that bothers me. I am begining to sense a pattern with all of this "Progressivism in ascendancy" stuff that I don't like. I have seen ith with Markos at Daily Kos, and with Clinton supporters who do not seem willing to remotely discuss how given who she is she will obtain the electoral votes needed to win or this progressive momement crap, etc. It bothers me because it has some of the same traits as the right. I am not saying in any of this that progressives shouldn't try to build power. My point is be leary of the bad side of accomplishing victories. One of which is as I mention here is getting cocky and thinking you will always win. Or, that you "have things in the bag." You don't determine that. The Amercan public does. If they say, for example, a pox on both houses, then it becomes a base turn out, and that's not what we want.

Posted by: akaison | Aug 12, 2007 9:37:25 AM

The supporters must be really bummed out, to turn down a free party...hell, I might have even let Romney's campaign take me for the best bbq in Iowa...

Posted by: dave | Aug 12, 2007 9:49:05 AM

My thoughts run in the direction elm outlines above. Forbes and Dole were more substantial contenders that Huckabee and Brownback are, at least at this point in the race.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Aug 12, 2007 10:50:46 AM

"His 13.5% margin of victory is actually the largest margin of the last four contested straw polls"

"Is there any data on why respondents voted for Romney?"

Well there are 6,000,000 data points each with a $ in front of them. Romney threw a huge amount of money at this straw poll. He offered free tickets, free transportation, free food and free entertainment and still overall turnout was down 50% from the last contested contest. I don't see margin of victory as being the right metric, gross votes compared to 1999 would be a better one, dollars spent per vote a pretty good proxy, and comparative spending a pretty good indicator.

But I did find it interesting that Huckabee edged out Brownback for seconddespite spending a lot less money and having a lot less visibility at Ames. After all in the final analysis vote buying is legal in an event like this one, it seems mean to take one candidates air conditioning and free barbecue and then vote for the other guy. Which leads me to believe that under the surface this whole Republican race is going to turn on religion. In a normal election cycle Brownback and Giuliani's Catholicism might not have been an issue, but this year the combination of Romney's Mormonism and Pope Benedict's helpful message to Southern Baptists that they are not actually members of true churches Catholicism is the only true church, Vatican declares has put sectarianism front and center, though mysteriously under the surface at the same time. Brownback is getting pretty aggressive against Romney on the cult issue, it can't be helpful that his spiritual leader is making a similar argument about Southern Baptists. Once you start drawing lines and circles about who is the Real Christian things can get out of hand.

And to throw in a wild card the traditional Catholic constituencies in this country have all been very conscious and very proud of being the descendents of immigrants. The Irish, the Poles, the Italians, Hispanics generally, each has tended to embrace the culture and particularly the food of the Old Country. People who proudly wave Italian flags on Columbus Day and Irish flags on St. Patrick's Day might get a little uneasy at the out in the open nativism that is animating the anti-immigration movement, after all many of them have grandparents who faced some of the same discrimination. Urban Catholics were traditonally Democrats, the Party lost many of them over Choice, but has a good chance of gaining many of them back with a message of Tolerance and Social Justice.

Posted by: Bruce Webb | Aug 12, 2007 12:08:37 PM

Well considering that one of the past winners was Pat Robertson, I'd say the meaning of any victory in this poll is pretty tainted. Plus, I've seen reports on Romney's spending for this poll at anywhere from $2 million to $5 million, given his total of 4500 votes that's between $440 and $1100 per vote. Doesn't seem impressive in the least.

Posted by: AJ | Aug 12, 2007 5:06:09 PM

Tom.a, why was Tancredo's finish startling to you? Were you asleep when the whole illegal alien amnesty went down in flames?

Posted by: pjgoober | Aug 12, 2007 11:56:18 PM

Tancredo's hefty percentage of the poll speaks volumes about the kind of people that occupy the Republican party.

Not really. Iowa is, after all, the home state of Steve King, who appears to be in an ongoing contest to be the most openly 'askeered of those teeming swarthies' member of the House. (He looks a lot like Tancredo, too.) And Iowa is, let's say, a mighty white state. It's fertile ground for Tancredo's ladder-pulling bigotry: plenty of Iowans outside the cities simply don't have any long-standing contact with non-whites, so the arrival of non-white farm employees who talk all funny is much easier to treat as the Brown Horde. (Never mind that, like Colorado, it's a fucking long way from the border. The point is that it's a long way from having an ethic mix reflective of the rest of the country.)

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Aug 13, 2007 8:50:50 AM

It never was an amnesty, not by the longest shot. The Nativists clung to that word because it was the only way to frame their argument so that it wouldn't appear to be racist. My God we talked about astronomical fines on top of paying "back taxes", and the path toward eventual citizenship was a nightmarish gauntlet as opposed to a casual stroll. The problem with folks like Tancredo is that anything short of wholesale deportation is seen as amnesty. They conveniently forget most of the other judicial tools we have at our disposal.

Posted by: Mack | Aug 14, 2007 8:30:28 AM

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