I came back from my company's technical seminar yesterday to find that Ron Paul had won the CPAC straw poll with 31% of the vote. A detailed breakdown of the results can be found here. The first thought I had was - holy cow, Ron Paul won the CPAC straw poll, how far has he come? Then you begin to look at the details and a few different stories begin to emerge.
Before I go onto my points on the topic - I really have to ask what is this fascination with Ron Paul amongst young voters. Because the Ron Paul I've seen speak is not someone who is electable or who should be. He endorsed a 9/11 truther over McCain and the Libertarian nominee in 2008. He also endorsed Don Young for Congress in Alaska in 2008. Young, in 2008, was opposed by Club for Growth sponsored candidate and current Governor of Alaska Sean Parnell. Young is a big earmark supporter, was under a federal bribery investigation, and received a 49% rating from the Club for Growth on fiscal issues in 2008. Paul is an isolationist, referred to the draft as slavery, and believes conspiracy theories about a "North American Union." Paul needs to be dismissed. There are other, much more reasonable libertarian leaning folks out there - he's not among them. But, I digress - onto my analysis of the results.
2,395 people cast ballots in the CPAC straw poll. The largest age group of CPAC straw poll voters? 18 to 25. This age group constituted 54% of the vote which says a few things. First, it is going to tilt the results towards the more libertarian side of things - Paul has a stronger following amongst younger voters. Second, this is not really a good representation of what the conservative movement as a whole actually supports. The conservative movement needs young voices, but 18 to 25 year olds to not make up 54% of the conservative movement. It just doesn't make much sense and is not really reflective of the movement at large.
A second point to consider is that the major Presidential contenders did not actively try to court voters in the straw poll. In the past, Romney had actually helped bus potential supporters to CPAC. Other contenders actively participated and tried to build up a network of supporters. In fact, Palin and Huckabee, who received 7% and 4% respectively, did not even attend. Huckabee went as far as to bash CPAC publicly. This changes things significantly from years past where people actively vied for this support.
The big winner of this straw poll was really Mitt Romney. I agree with the analysis from HotLine's On Call who said, "He didn't win the CPAC straw poll, but Romney came in second place to a contender no one believes is serious about running in WH'12 -- Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX). Romney gave a well-regarded speech that fired up the crowd more than most of his potential '12 rivals, and his showing, 3 times more than ex-AK Gov. Sarah Palin (R), demonstrates he still has a following among the influential group of activists." Without all the tricks he pulled in the past to rally support - Romney was able to muster a VERY strong showing amongst a large field of 2012 candidates.
Another point to be made is that 53% of those polled, wanted a better candidate. Again, as I pointed out in the beginning, this is not necessisarily indicitive of the movement as a whole. But, what it does show is a tendency to reject the potential establishment candidates. Someone from the outside could do well in this type of an environment - for example, Senator DeMint who has boldly and continuously bucked the Republican establishment by standing tall with Marco Rubio and Pat Toomey. DeMint had a 73% approval rating amongst those polled - higher than any of the others polled including a good 23% higher than the Senate Minority Leader.
One final note on the results - who are these 2% of CPAC goers who think Reid, Pelosi, and Obama are doing a good job? I really wonder if these were just joke votes.
In summary, Ron Paul's strong showing was strange, but not entirely out of the question based on the breakdown of who voted. The big winner of the straw poll was Mitt Romney and potential outsider leaders such as Jim DeMint. A DeMint / Pence ticket in 2012 would not be bad at all.
Cross posted to Old Line Elephant.