-By Warner Todd Huston
I have to say, I have a pretty big problem with the Illinois GOP presidential straw poll. It doesn’t seem to mean anything.
Before I get to my problem, let me explain what these presidential straw polls are. As a general rule they are chiefly state party fundraisers. And in most states they are polls of those deeply involved with the various candidates running in the state primary and are not necessarily representative of the whole of the state’s Republican voters. These are polls of the most active operatives.
These polls are also usually taken at some sort of state party function (like the Iowa Caucus, for instance) and, therefore, the voters are delivering their vote in person. So, there is some sort of nominal control to the whole deal, i.e. voters vote once and that is all.
Certainly what you end up with in a presidential straw poll is a canvas of the opinions of the most involved, party activists in a state all of whom came out to a major party function. But it also shows how organized any particular candidate is. Often the candidate with the best ground game, the most workers, the biggest organization, the most money to spread around is a favored candidate. There are upset and surprises, of course, but a good ground game is key.
Now, what are the differences here with the Illinois straw poll? Practically everything.
In Illinois the straw poll is being held over the Internet. It is not tied to a state function. Worse there isn’t even the tiniest control put on these votes. Anyone in the country can vote as long as they pay the state party at least $5 (it is still a party fundraiser and that is about the only way the Ill. straw poll is anything like the others).
Who knows what we will end up with, here? We could see a Ron Paul win because he can flood the ballot box with his unspent millions and his score of mind-numbed supporters sitting in front of their computers in Texas, or anywhere else, repeatedly voting for their man.
This straw poll won’t help illustrate anything in Illinois. It won’t show a candidate’s ground game because there is no party function going on for the candidates to attend and work. It won’t show what the most active GOP voters in Illinois think because this poll is not conducive for activists to work for their candidate. I’m not even sure it will show what the GOP voters in Illinois think because this poll is relegated to those voters tuned in enough to the state party to get the party emails so that they could even find out that the poll is even being held in the first place.
Unfortunately, this particular straw poll is solely a GOP party fundraiser (not a bad thing in itself) and not any finger on the pulse of Illinois Republicans (hence the bad, here). No matter who wins, this straw poll will be meaningless as a way to find out how the candidates are doing in Illinois. And that is a shame… or maybe just a sham.
Finally, do I see any kind of malevolence with this thing? No, not really. Just a misfire is all.
**Addendum** Doug Ibendahl has also written about this today.
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Warner Todd Huston is a Chicago based freelance writer. He has been writing opinion editorials and social criticism since early 2001 and before that he wrote articles on U.S. history for several small American magazines. His political columns are featured on many websites such as Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com, BigHollywood.com, and BigJournalism.com, as well as RightWingNews.com, RightPundits.com, CanadaFreePress.com, StoptheACLU.com, AmericanDaily.com, among many, many others. Mr. Huston is also endlessly amused that one of his articles formed the basis of an article in Germany’s Der Spiegel Magazine in 2008.
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