Ron Paul’s CPAC Poll Victory: What Does It Mean?

A lot of jaws dropped yesterday when the organizers of the Conservative Political Action Conference announced the results of their presidential straw poll (pdf).

In a surprise victory, Ron Paul far outpaced his GOP rivals with 31%. Mitt Romney, who has won in several previous CPAC polls came in second with 22%. Sarah Palin, a presumed conservative favorite, trailed badly with only 7%.

So what might have contributed to these unexpected results? For one thing, it is not possible to make general representations about the CPAC attendees. Only 2,395 of them (out of approximately 10,000) voted in the poll. That means that 70% abstained. And there was no effort to develop representative sampling, so the results can’t be extrapolated to the attendees at large.

Ron Paul has fired up a certain segment of conservatives with his independent streak and appeal to anti-government types. But he is also 74 years old (a year older than John McCain) and a plurality of CPAC voters (48%) were students. Apparently that demographic split didn’t hurt Paul. It may, in fact, point to the more anarchistic bent of youth, while older establishment conservatives lean toward the comfort food candidacy of Mitt Romney.

Some analysts have attributed Palin’s poor showing to her not showing. She announced weeks ago that she would not be attending CPAC in favor of the Tea Baggers Ball in Nashville. Of course there was nothing stopping her from going to both – except that the Tea Baggers paid her a hundred grand and CPAC is a gratis affair. Also, presidential hopefuls Tim Pawlenty, Mike Pence, Newt Gingrich, and Mike Huckabee all showed up, gave warmly received speeches, and finished below no-show Palin.

Some other questions posed in the poll may shed light on the presidential numbers. For instance, most voters (53%) were unsatisfied with the current crop of candidates. An overwhelming majority cite smaller government, a key Paul issue, as their main goal. Issues championed by Palin, like traditional values (9%) and national security (7%), were far less important to this crowd. And bombast seems to be out of favor judging by the high negatives of Glenn Beck (27%) and Rush Limbaugh (27%). You would think that number would get more attention. Nearly a third of CPACers have a negative view of their most prominent spokesmen. For some reason, Palin was not included in the favorability question. Not to worry. Perhaps that’s for the best as a recent poll showed that she is not particularly welcome in the 2012 race anyway. 71% said they did not want her to run. That included 56% of Republicans, 65% of Independents, and even 58% of conservatives.

So what does it all mean? The Hell if I know. The only thing that I come away from this with is the certainty that the roster of also-rans in this poll will shortly be adopting more of Ron Paul’s policies and rhetoric.


9 thoughts on “Ron Paul’s CPAC Poll Victory: What Does It Mean?

  1. Mark,

    I don’t think Ron Paul’s strong support among young people is attributable primarily to the “anarchistic bent of youth.”

    I think it’s more due to young people realizing how much our crushing national debt is going to hinder their best years. Many have just emerged from college with huge student loans and can’t find jobs to pay them off, so debt is big on their minds.

    • That’s a fair point. But I’m not sure it explains the overall poll results.

      And wouldn’t reforming education policy and providing better options be a superior solution than the draconian cuts to education that Paul advocates? Wouldn’t young people prefer alternative ways to pay and loan forgiveness for certain public works?

  2. Mark,

    Libertarian thought on this (which I agree with) is:

    The reason so many recent college graduates have so much in student loans isn’t because government hasn’t stepped in with more ways to pay for college, or even loan forgiveness grants (which I suspect are coming).

    The reason they have so much debt is that college costs too much (40K/yr or more now at top schools). Its price has been artificially propped up for decades by government policies like easy Sallie Mae loans, Pell Grants, government as source of educational and scientific grants, virtually any money distributed by the ED, etc.

    An increasing number of students are also now wondering whether a college education really does pay for itself. If you’re pursing an M.D., yes. If you’re pursing an English degree, possibly not.

  3. CNN is blatantly pushing fear propaganda by it’s “Cyber Attack Simulation” airing tonight. Check out

    It seems like they are trying to get the public to consent to the possibility of future martial law.

  4. DrewJ thats right. When the federal government tries to guarantee loans for college or loans for homes they encourage high prices.

    The same thing has happened to health care , costs are high because the federal government’s interference whether well intentioned or not.

    • I don’t want to get into a debate about loans and health care costs because this post is about the political horse race and polling, however…

      The opposite of your assertion is true. The government’s presence in health care markets has resulted in lower prices as private medical facilities and insurance companies seek to compete with public entities like Medicare. The problem is that the public entities are limited as to who they can serve. That’s why I advocate Medicare for all. Then let the private companies offer their own competitive programs.

      Also, Pell Grant recipients and other educational government loan programs have not inflated tuition. They are a small percentage of the student population and could not have that effect.

  5. “Ron Paul’s victory: What does it mean?”

    Absolutely nothing. IT’S A STRAW POLL.

  6. My opinion: Paul is anti-war. That’s the biggy.

    (BTW, I absolutely love the design and layout of your site. Mine is a home-made mess which I shouldn’t say, but whatever.)

    • Thanks.

      Ron Paul hits a couple of righteous notes (i.e. anti-war and anti Patriot Act), but he is also a racist and fundamentalist Libertarian (i.e. no social programs, education, etc.).

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