Do straw polls matter? This one does

This week over 3000 Republicans will gather in Orlando to meet presidential candidates, watch them debate, and then vote in a non-binding straw poll.

Last year’s United States Senate campaign in Florida is highly instructive in how useful straw polls can be. Marco Rubio was trailing Charlie Crist in scientifically conducted public opinion polls early in the primary campaign. But several county Republican Executive Committees conducted straw polls of their members which showed overwhelming support for Rubio. County REC’s are composed of the grassroots activists who raise money, knock on doors, and make phone calls for political campaigns. They are often more informed about issues. So, what happened? Once Republican primary voters learned the same information that REC members knew, they switched from being Crist supporters to Rubio supporters. Crist knew that his primary campaign was so hopeless that he left the party and ran as an independent.

The Presidency 5 Straw Poll is important because it is like those REC straw polls, only larger. It will be a snapshot of where Florida GOP activists stand on the candidates. Some candidates may even drop out due to poor performance in the straw poll, as former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty did after a disappointing showing in an Iowa straw poll last month.

A few of the candidates have been trying to downplay the The Presidency 5 Straw Poll, even suggesting that they would not participate in it. The Republican Party of Florida correctly decided to include all candidates.

Just imagine if Charlie Crist had been able to “not participate” in those REC straw polls.