Ron Paul and Opinion Polling

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Many supporters
have been wondering or even worrying about the weak 1–3% opinion
polling
support Ron Paul has had. There are several reasons
why opinion polling produces these results that most people do not
know about.

1) Opinion
polls are mostly conducted by using telephone landlines. The reason
is that landline numbers are easy to obtain, and they produce a
fairly accurate and random result for most questionnaires. As known
from marketing, each product has a life cycle, and those who hang
on to landline numbers tend to be late adopters of new technology.
These late adopters do not use the internet, so they have (most
likely) not even heard of Ron Paul. For them the choice is still
between Rudy McRomney which is thus reflected on the polling result.
Due to this sampling error the real support for Ron Paul is most
likely stronger than the opinion polls show.

2) Many opinion
polls count answers selectively. They reason that by counting only
certain given opinions, uncertainty and randomness will be reduced
in the opinion polling results. For example, the opinion polls ask
questions such as: are you a registered supporter of the Republican
party, have you voted in primaries before, what is your yearly income,
when where you born etc. These questions are then used to eliminate
groups such as non-registered republicans or young people. Even
if this elimination is mostly statistically justified, it reduces
the showing support for surprise candidates such as Ron Paul, especially
when an important part of Ron Paul’s campaign is to mobilize voters
who do not usually vote in primaries.

3) In order
to reduce the inaccuracy between two polls conducted by the same
pollster, vote multipliers are added, which can be based on earlier
polls, prior elections, “scientific” analyzes or just simply guesses.
Here is how they work. Let’s say that a vote multiplier for Rudy
Giuliani is 1.2, for John McCain 1.5 and for Ron Paul –3.0.
If the pure poll gives Giuliani 25%, McCain 10% and Ron Paul 10%
of the vote, the opinion polls are counted to show 30% for Giuliani,
15% for McCain and only 3% for Ron Paul. The chances are that opinion
polls for Ron Paul have negative multipliers, since no-one conducting
the polls believes that he can win. The same phenomenon has happened
in various European countries during the last five years when so-called
far right parties (with anti-immigration, anti-EU and fiscal conservative
views) have taken many land-slide victories, even if their results
in opinion polls have been often either poor or mediocre.

4) Opinion
polls are not value free or interest neutral. Even if the opinion
polling company would want to conduct a poll on honest scientific
standards, they still know that their poll has been ordered by USA
Today, NBC, FOX News, the Washington Post or the New
York Times. So a polling company’s self-interest is to produce
a result that the mainstream media likes. These news agencies are
not interested in polls that predict a great result for Ron Paul,
if they would get one, they would not publish it. This can be seen
by just looking back at the polling results from as late as late
April. During late April most polls did not even include Ron Paul
as a potential running candidate! He only starts to show up regularly
after mid-May, where as undeclared ‘candidate’ Fred Thompson has
been included since the very beginning.

Opinion polls
often lie, just like statistics do. The opinion polling for the
Republican primary clearly underestimates Ron Paul’s real popularity,
which may already be around 10%. For example, sportsbook.com (a
betting site – not a pro–Ron Paul site) currently places
his odds 5th
in the Republican candidate nomination race and 9th
in the 2008 Presidential Elections. But let’s suppose that I am
wrong and the opinion polls do show the real support for Ron Paul.
Still, his chances for winning are very good, for the following
reasons.

1) As Justin
Ptak correctly
pointed out
, “the national polls are entirely a reflection of
name identification, not voters’ views of the candidates.” For example
Carter was only polling 1% in 1975 and he won the presidency. Back
in 1991 Clinton’s support was at 2% and he became the president.
Joe Lieberman was leading the Democratic presidential nomination
in 2003, yet he failed to win a single primary.

2) The opinion
polls also fail to grasp that the Ron Paul revolution is not only
a revolution of ideas; it is also revolutionizing campaign methods.
Campaign methods seldom change, but in the US presidential elections
they have done so twice in the past. Back in 1825 when John Quincy
Adams won the presidency he revolutionized campaigning by distributing
buttons and other campaign gimmicks. A second campaigning revolution
took place in the 1961 elections when the televised mass media made
JFK the president. The Ron Paul revolution of 2008 could be the
third campaigning revolution. Earlier it was easier for politicians
to lie and get away with it. Today prior speeches and voting records
are easily obtainable and thus politicians become increasingly accountable
of what they have ever said or done. Furthermore the mass media
can no longer determine the election winners. In such an environment
the few sincere honest politicians like Ron Paul will win.

3) All conducted
opinion polls measure the general opinion on candidates. In elections
where half the nation votes, such as the presidential election,
the opinion poll results are crucial. In elections where only a
minority of activists vote the opinion polling results are unimportant.
The primaries are activist elections and despite all attempts to
reduce uncertainty and randomness by the opinion polling companies
(e.g. by methods mentioned above), the randomness and uncertainty
still remain. This is due to the fact, that it is almost impossible
to separate the activists from the rest in an opinion poll. For
example, in the presidential primaries of 2004 only 7.2% of the
Americans voted! The Democratic turnout was 11.4%, the Republican
turnout only 6.6%! In these cases straw polling matters more than
general opinion polls, since straw polls are conducted in places
where only the best-informed and most active voters gather. In straw
polls Ron Paul has done extremely well, always placing first or
second, once he even made a land sliding victory gaining 65%
of the popular support
!

4) The opinion
polls give out the impression that a candidate needs to gather millions
of votes in most states in order to get the party’s presidential
nomination. As noted above, with only 7.2% of the Americans voting
in the 2004 primaries, this is not the case. For example, in New
Hampshire with a population of 1,200,000 the size of the voting
age population is around 1,000,000. If 20% of the shire folk would
vote (an extremely high number for a presidential primary) 200,000
votes would be cast. Half would be democratic votes. Thus even if
Ron Paul would race himself against all the other republican candidates,
he would win with just 51,000 votes. And this is the pessimist scenario.
Most likely the voting turnout will be around 10% and no other GOP
candidate will gather more than 30% of the state’s votes. In this
case Ron Paul will win the New Hampshire primary with only 15,000
votes! As the CNHT straw poll
shows, Ron Paul already has 200 votes and judging
by
some videos,
there are at least a thousand dedicated Ron Paulians in New Hampshire.
How hard can it be for them to gather 14,000 more votes for Dr.
Paul? Using the same analogy, in California, the most populous state
of the Union with 36,500,000 people, the GOP primary can be won
with only 450,000 votes. Ron Paul will be aided further by the fact
that five small states of Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Wyoming and
Maine hold their primaries before Super-Tuesday and every single
primary victory will give him an election boost. The smaller the
state is, the easier it is to gather a grassroots movement that
can influence the election result.

In the primary
phase of the presidential elections the ingenuity of the Ron Paul
campaign will be clearest. All other GOP candidates adhere to some
stripe of neoconservatism, which will only attract the support of
the old voters (i.e. of those 6.6% of the Republicans that voted
in the 2004 presidential primary). The neoconservative message is
old and widely hated. Ron Paul provides a culturally conservative,
libertarian option with fresh ideas that appeal not only to many
old voters, but to thousands of new voters who have never voted
in primaries before. He has already succeeded in turning the whole
Constitution party, half of the Libertarian party and many, many
anti-war Democrats into registered Ron Paul Republicans. Ron Paul
is also about to succeed in waking up the elderly Republican voters
with the traditional conservative Republican message of life, liberty
and property. The neoconservatives cannot beat him. Their individual
candidates are all too power hungry to give up the race and join
forces under one name in order to defeat Dr. Paul. With the primaries
moved closer to each other they have no longer the option to drop
out in the middle of the race, meaning that the neoconservative
vote will be shattered between a dozen candidates in every, single,
state.

The Ron Paul
revolution has already succeeded. It has brought a lot of attention
to the libertarian ideas of peace and a limited government. It has
also put a strain on the mass media, who can no longer deliver any
information they want in any manner they please. Just like a real
revolution the Ron Paul revolution has become a movement everyone
wants to join. The real test for the Ron Paul revolution is not
the victory over the GOP nomination, the question is how to win
the presidency from a Hillary-Obama ticket, which will undoubtedly
be seen as a dream team by the academia, the mass media, the special
interest groups, the bureaucrats and the politicians.

July
14, 2007

Lasse
Pitkaniemi [send him mail]
is a 24-year-old Swedish-speaking Finnish political scientist and
economist.

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