Labor Day has come and gone. The children are back in school. The biggest party of the summer is over – the Republican Party of Iowa’s (RPI) Presidential Straw Poll, in which 16,786 people voted. Winter rapidly approaches.
Michelle Bachmann (4,823 votes) won the straw poll, with Ron Paul (4,621 votes) a close second. Tim Pawlenty dropped out and Rick Perry jumped in. Rick Santorum (1,675) and Herman Cain (1,456) had a significant number of supporters. Political pundits wrote their stories, got their TV time, and then moved on.
Unfortunately, those at the straw poll only represented about 2.7 percent of the state’s registered Republicans. They drove to Ames and spent their day listening, asking questions, and talking with candidates. Technically, you did not have to be a registered Republican to vote in the straw poll – only a resident of Iowa. The straw poll is widely known, yet only 16,786 people voted.
However, it was a party with a purpose. The next party with a purpose is the presidential caucus, February 6, 2012 – or whenever we hold it!
There are almost 2 million active registered voters in Iowa (1,963,372). Of those, about 610,000 are registered Republicans and 641,000 are registered Democrats. There are more people registered “No Party” or “Other” than either Democrats or Republicans – over 706,000.
In 2008, over 119,000 Republicans came to the caucuses and voted, which was the most ever. That was still only just over 20 percent of those registered. Interestingly, over 34,000 voters have become newly registered Republicans in the last three-and-a-half years. Over 125,000 Republicans should attend the 2012 caucuses. The Democrat turnout is expected to be significantly less.
The economic development to Iowa from the caucus is significant, as is the opportunity to personally meet and talk with someone who potentially will become our next President. Barack Obama was considered to have little chance of success until he won in Iowa.
It is a party with a purpose.
Yet, only 20 percent of our citizens take the time to participate and express their opinion. Further, the 700,000 people who have declared no party affiliation have no voice. They are unable to participate. Fortunately, they can come on caucus night, fill out the registration form, and declare a party affiliation – either Republican or Democrat.
We live in a country mired in the economic doldrums, with trillions of dollars of government debt, where the real unemployment number is close to 16 percent, and where college graduates have an average of $23,000 in debt and no jobs.
Thus the Democrat and Republican caucuses are not just political festivals or parties – they are parties with a purpose, a very important purpose. Be sure to accept your invitation.
Deborah D. Thornton is a research analyst at the Public Interest Institute in Mount Pleasant.