North America 14 August 2011 Bachmann wins Iowa straw poll. And that matters why? "The most important, meaningless event in the political cycle." Print HTML After a troubled few weeks, Minnesota congresswoman Michelle Bachman has won the first big test ahead of the 2012 Republican primary contest, coming top of the Ames straw poll in Iowa. Given she only announced her decision to run two months ago, Bachmann appears to be the Republican candidate with momentum Of the nearly 17,000 votes cast: Michelle Bachmann took 4,823 Ron Paul took 4,671 Tim Pawlenty took 2,293 Rick Santorum took 1,657 Herman Cain took 1,456 Rick Perry took 718* Mitt Romney took 567 Newt Gingrich took 385 Jon Huntsman took 69 Thaddeus McCotter took 35 (*Because he only announced his candidacy earlier the same day, Rick Perry wasn't officially on the ballot but still received 718 votes, more than Mitt Romney. In turn, the normally high-spending Romney chose to sit out this campaign. Ultimately, his camp will hope that Bachmann and Perry split the evangelical vote allowing their man to surge through the middle.) But does any of this matter? After all, we are five months away from the primary season and some potential frontrunners have yet to announce their candidacy (Sarah Palin) or have only just done so (Perry). Nate Silver over at New York Times Five Thirty Eight blog makes the case for Ames. He points out that on every occasion since this poll began in 1979, the candidate who came either first or second went on to win Iowa caucus the following year. He writes: Two successes in particular stand out. In 1979, George H.W. Bush won Ames despite polling at just 1 percent in a Des Moines Register survey -- he went on to win the Iowa caucus. And in 2007 Mike Huckabee, in the low single digits in both state and national polls, finished second in the straw poll, the first tangible indicator of his upside in Iowa. Huckabee himself, the former Arkansas governor, describes the Ames straw poll as "the most important, meaningless event in the political cycle. Meaningless because it doesn't mean you get delegates. Important because if you are not here, you are also not getting attention." Silver, meanwhile, has attempted to create a predictive model, taking into account the Ames result and poll ratings: Nevertheless, we should treat the Ames result with caution for a couple of reasons at least. Firstly, it is not foolproof. It got things badly wrong in 1995 (Phil Gramm tied with Bob Dole) and in 2007 (Sam Brownback and Tom Tancredo achieved third and fourth finishes but dropped out before the caucus itself). Secondly, a victory in the real Iowa caucus doesn't guarantee party nomination. Although the picture has improved since the mid-1990s, between 1984 and 1996 none of the Iowa winners across the two main parties went on to win the nomination. Incidentally, Romney was the 2007 Ames winner. And look what good that did him. › Morning Call: pick of the papers Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. Subscribe More Related articles Margaret Atwood on how an inspired polymath resurrected Native America’s epics The last British Guantanamo detainee Shaker Aamer will be released When should you start caring about the US presidential election?