Why straw polls stopped mattering… until now

Grassroots Straw Polls

In the past, before the internet became the main force driving political candidates to victory, straw polls at the various summits and conventions had meaning. They represented the voice of the most passionate people within a party in a local area that often extended to multiple states for the larger groups. These were the people who were going to get the word out to the masses, so winning a straw poll meant that a candidate would have more phones called, more doors knocked, and more yards filled with signs.

That changed. It started with the rise of television during the Kennedy era but didn’t really hit a tipping point until the 2004 and 2006 elections brought the importance of the internet to bear. Ever since, the Internet has played as much of a role in winning or losing political campaigns as television. The grassroots efforts of passionate voters was pushed aside a bit.

Things are changing again. It’s now a matter of two extremes. For the Republicans, the wide field has allowed for a re-entry of grassroots efforts to make a difference, particularly for the candidates that are hovering in the top-middle of the pack. Those who simply need a push like Ben Carson and Ted Cruz will have a good chance of getting it through grassroots efforts because the airwaves and internet are so dominated by Donald Trump.

On the other side, the Democrats are seeing the re-emergence of grassroots efforts due to the fact that their top candidate is unable to drive passions the way that President Obama did in the previous two elections. Democrats were enamored by President Obama. They’re much less infatuated with Hillary Clinton. This is allowing the grassroots efforts of Bernie Sanders and others to push them up in the polls.

A recent straw poll by FreedomWorks for America was a very important sign for Cruz. His conservative values are expected to bring him top billing on all such straw polls because it’s usually the most conservative that play in those circles, but his victory was far greater than most would imagine. His 41% far exceeded the second place 12% that Carson received. Trump came in third with 8%.

The organization, which boasts over six million grassroots volunteers, represents the type of kickstart that the Cruz campaign will need over months preceding the primaries. Trump gets more television airtime than every other GOP candidate combined. His army of internet followers is huge. The best chance for someone like Cruz, Carson, Marco Rubio, or Carly Fiorina to do well in the early primaries is if they’re able to galvanize the conservatives.

It’s easy to dismiss straw poll numbers, particularly on the right where these summits are often dominated by the Tea Party. However, when candidates get the type of unquestionable numbers that Cruz is receiving, it’s clear that Trump is not a foregone conclusion as the GOP nominee.

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