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Monday, June 20, 2011

Ron Paul and Straw Polls

Our chapter on public opinion and participation distinguishes random-sample surveys from other types of "polls." Sarah Tung writes at The Houston Chronicle:
What’s that, you say? Rep. Ron Paul has won yet another straw poll?

At this weekend’s Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, the Lake Jackson Republican effortlessly bested his fellow 2012 presidential hopefuls.

Paul sidled to victory with 612 votes out of the 1,542 that were cast. Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman came in second with 382. Rounding up the top three with 191 votes was Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann. Last year’s victor, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who did not attend this year, won only 74 votes.

Earlier this year, much to no one’s surprise, Paul won the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll with roughly 30 percent of the votes. And the Lake Jackson Republican swept to victory in an Internet straw poll conducted by the Tea Party Patriots in conjunction with its Arizona convention. (Texas Gov. Rick Perry finished 11th.)

But the Lone Star State’s most notable libertarian lacks similar success in most national polls, with numbers that barely register in the double digits. At the 2008 Iowa Republican caucuses, for example, Paul won only 9.9 percent of the 119,000 total votes.

As of today, for instance, the RealClearPolitics average of GOP preferences is as follows:

Romney... 24.4

Michael Muskal explains at The Los Angeles Times:
Straw votes or polls are a special hybrid between scientific surveys and general elections. A scientific poll is based on a sample that professes to offer some insight into how the general electorate will vote. But a straw poll is merely the counting of anyone who shows up at that moment. The number of voters is generally small and self-selected, so there is no way to extrapolate the results to a larger body like the general electorate.

To use an example from the movie "Field of Dreams," it is similar to the voice that tells the hero, Ray, "If you build it, he will come." Hold a straw poll and dedicated partisans will come to cast a ballot for their choice, often Ron Paul.

Paul has done extremely well in straw polls, winning twice at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2010 and this year before Saturday's victory. His supporters are ardent in going to great lengths to express their preference for the 75-year-old congressman.

But Paul's support rarely seriously grows when the number of voters rapidly expands as the venue shifts from a small, self-designated preference poll to a larger caucus, like Iowa's, or eventually, the even larger arenas of primaries. Paul can always be a voice, but he has had enormous difficulty becoming a competitive player.