A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from September 26, 2011
Straw Poll (Straw Vote)

A “straw poll” (or “straw vote") is a vote on a candidate or issue; straws are not used tally the votes, but straws might originally have been used. The early straw votes were taken on board steamboats, and the term “steam boat vote” has been cited in print since at least 1828.

“Straw vote” has been cited in print since at least 1866 (when it was used in Ohio) and “straw poll” has been cited in print since at least 1891 (when it was used in South Dakota).


Wikipedia: Straw poll
A straw poll or straw vote is a vote with nonbinding results. Straw polls provide dialogue among movements within large groups, reflecting trends like organization and motivation. In meetings subject to rules of order, impromptu straw polls often are taken to see if there is enough support for an idea to devote more meeting time to it, and (when not a secret ballot) for the attendees to see who is on which side of a question. However, Robert’s Rules of Order prohibits straw polls, calling them “meaningless and dilatory” because they subvert the deliberative charge of deliberative bodies. Among political bodies, straw polls often are scheduled for events at which many people interested in the polling question can be expected to vote. Sometimes polls conducted without ordinary voting controls in place (i.e., on an honor system, such as in online polls) are also called “straw polls”.

The idiom may allude to a straw (thin plant stalk) held up to see in what direction the wind blows, in this case, the wind of group opinion. Other possible origins include allusion to the insignificance of straw as in “straw man”.

Washington (DC) Post—Politics Glossary
straw poll
An unofficial vote that is used to gauge the possible outcome of an official vote in an upcoming election. If enough randomly selected voters participate in a straw poll it can be one effective measure of voter sentiment. Some straw polls, however, allow candidates to manipulate the outcome by offering food, transportation, entertainment and other inducements to voters.

Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary
straw vote noun
Definition of STRAW VOTE
: an unofficial vote taken (as at a chance gathering) to indicate the relative strength of opposing candidates or issues —called also straw poll
First Known Use of STRAW VOTE
1866

(Oxford English Dictionary)
straw vote n. orig. U.S. an unofficial vote taken in order to indicate the relative strength of opposing candidates or issues.
1866 Cleveland (Ohio) Leader 6 Oct. 4/2 A straw vote taken on a Toledo train yesterday resulted as follows; A. Johnson 12; Congress, 47.
1887 San Francisco Thunderbolt 4 Nov. 1.  The straw vote taken at the ‘Report’ office is unreliable.
1906 Daily Chron. 24 Oct. 4/5 ‘Straw’ votes, which have recently been taken in the New York State campaign, indicate that Mr. Hearst will be badly beaten.

straw poll n. orig. U.S. = straw vote n.
1932 C. E. Robinson Straw Votes iv. 52 The newspaper or magazine conducting a straw poll by the ballot-in-the-paper method prints a straw ballot in the publication for a certain period of time before an election.
1944 Chicago Tribune 26 Oct. 12/2 (heading) New deal area lifts F.D.R. in N.Y. straw poll.
1958 Spectator 6 June 722/1 In my own straw poll I found two electors who were going to vote Liberal for the first time.

14 March 1828, Baltimore (MD) Patriot, pg. 2:
The clear and perspicuous Address of Mr.Gaston, and the one from Chapman Johnson, have undoubtedly had great influence with all those who are seeking for light and truth.—Even the real Heroites, “the hurra boys,” (as Mr. Van Buren styled them when told of a Steam boat vote in favor of Mr. Adams) begin to read, pause and reflect.

17 June 1844, Albany (NY) Evening Journal, pg. 2:
ANOTHER STEAMBOAT VOTE.—On the last trip of the Buffalo down, politics as usual, was the engrossing subject of conversation.

25 August 1875, Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, pg. 4:
A Straw.
The following straw vote was taken on the Tuscarawas Valley railway, yesterday: Allen, 233; Hayes, 184; no vote, 18.

Chronicling America
8 September 1876, National Republican (Washington, DC), pg. 1, col. 2:
Straws—A straw vote taken on the return of the steamer Arrow from Mount Vernon yesterday resulted as follows: Hayes, 154; Tilden, 82; Cooper, 1.

30 January 1891, Aberdeen (SD) Weekly News, pg. 7,col. 6::
Sioux Falls Argus Leader: A few days ago Major C. Boyd Barrett in a Washington interview declared that the south was solid against Cleveland. But on Saturday the Alabama legislature in a straw poll on the coming presidential candidate gave Cleveland a unanimous vote in the senate and 68 out of 76 present in the house. The major seems to be off, as usual.

11 January 1896, Aberdeen (SD) Daily News, pg. 5:
FAVOR McKINLEY.
Aberdeen Republicans Largely Prefer Him for a Presidential Candidate.
A Straw Poll Indicates Surprisingly Strong Sentiment That Way.


Chronicling America
30 October 1897, New York (NY) Sun, pg. 6, col. 3:
On the Shenandoah Valley express running between Washington and Louisville, a straw poll showed these results: BRYAN, 433; McKINLEY, 1.

Google Books
Safire’s Political Dictionary
By William Safire
New York, NY: Oxford English Dictionary
2008
Pg. 709:
straw poll (straw vote) Originally an informal survey of a small group to determine opinion; now becoming a term for a scientific, large-scale poll based on the theory of a random sample.
(...)
Surveys had often been taken on river steamboats, and steamboat vote was a predecessor phrase that was considered “a straw,” as in this item in Old Zack, an 1848 campaign weekly supporting Zachary Taylor: “Straws—For a while the Locofoco papers ventured to publish steamboat votes...A vote was taken on the Steamer Fairmount on her trip to Pittsburg.—This is the vote: Taylor 75, Cass 37, Van Buren 4.”

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