But he also points out the Iowa GOP has made the straw poll a media event that is hard to resist: The event is scheduled for the middle of August, several weeks into a month where notoriously little happens. To maximize attendance and play to cameras, the poll coincides with the Iowa State Fair, an event that captivates the imagination of coastal types with butter-sculpted cows.

He acknowledges the state—which now has fewer than 80,000 farmers—is adept at playing up a rural, homespun image for outsiders, especially those with cameras.

“It can’t be minimized that there are pictures. [Politicians] come out and scratch the ears on a pig and eat a corn dog, and East Coast photographers can’t resist that stuff. And then there’s the straw poll itself and it’s a carnival atmosphere. It’s just a huge photo-op,” Yepsen says.

There’s another potential reason behind so much straw poll coverage. Calling to mind the Morry Taylor spectacle, Yepsen says the event is “kind of fun.” He adds, “and you know there are a lot of things covering politics that aren’t fun.”

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Erika Fry is a former assistant editor at CJR.