How a 'Third-Tier' Candidate Wins the Primary

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Ron Paul’s
record fund-raising on Monday got me thinking about what the media
polls say about his chances of getting the GOP nomination. Clearly,
Ron Paul supporters are more motivated than any of the other candidates’
— this is a direct consequence of a successful grassroots campaign
since it relies on volunteers who choose to actively participate.
Historically, primaries are a non-starter for political action:
voter turnout rates are typically around 10% of registered voters
for the relevant party. So can the combination of a successful grassroots
campaign and general ambivalence at the polls make for a successful
nomination run? I crunched the numbers and I was surprised to learn
that the answer is: Yes.

A caveat

Before
I tell you how I arrived at that conclusion, I want to address one
of the many potential complications in my analysis. Paul supporters
are enthusiastic, but a subset of them, including regular readers
of this website, are philosophically opposed to taking part in the
political process in this country; i.e., they don’t vote,
not because they don’t care, but because they choose not to. There
are different motivations for this position, which are not the subject
of this analysis and have been written
about at length
. I am uncertain about what fraction of registered
vs. unregistered voters the non-voting block makes up (based
on voter turnout for Presidential elections, it must be less than
50% of all registered voters) and, furthermore, I am uncertain about
what fraction of the donors on Monday are opposed to voting.

What is
relevant to this article is that Paul’s candidacy is not about Ron
Paul the person, but about the message of freedom, liberty, and
peace. Because Ron Paul is having a somewhat successful run for
President, this message is getting heard more than it ever has before.
(Disclaimer: I say “somewhat” because of the third-tier press, debate
and media poll attention; “successful” because of the positive attention
due to talk shows, internet blogs, text-messaging polls, and fundraising.)
How often do you hear someone on Jay Leno bring up Austrian Economics?
To my knowledge, this has happened precisely once in the history
of the Tonight Show.

To that
end, who cares if he wins the election: let’s keep him in the public
eye for as long as possible so that this message can get voiced
over and over. If he loses the nomination, this message will fade
quickly starting early next spring. So there may be a loophole for
those who are philosophically opposed to voting, but are believers
of freedom, liberty, and peace. If Ron Paul wins the nomination,
the message will be heard for at least another 362 days.

Data sources
and reasoning

I am using
the most
recent CNN poll
as a starting point, and I argue that Ron Paul
(or any other candidate with strong grassroots support) does actually
have a very reasonable shot at getting nominated. It seems that
this is particularly possible because of 1) the large field of participants
(there are 8 now that Brownback dropped out) and 2) no clear front-runner
with a large base of support (Giuliani has 28% in the CNN poll).
This poll is the most optimistic media poll for Ron Paul (5%) so
far, but I don’t think it’s outrageously optimistic. Another recent
poll by USA Today
is less optimistic for Paul (1%), which
does imply that it’s extremely unlikely for Paul to win the nomination.

Media polls
employ different methods, but they all report the responses of “likely
voters.” I am no expert, but there is a very
thorough analysis of polling methodology
and it seems that the
likely voters in the CNN poll may just be those that voted in the
last primary (6.6%
of registered Republicans
). That was a GOP re-election year,
so for this calculation, I’ll use a voter turnout based
on the 1996 election
: 8.2%. (I couldn’t find an overall turnout
for ’98 or ’00.)

So, now
that I have the numbers, there are just a couple more assumptions,
which, I think, are conservative but are still somewhat arbitrary.

  1. The CNN
    poll is a real pulse of registered Republican sentiment. What
    goes for the 6.6% “likely voters” goes for all registered Republicans.
  2. Ron Paul’s
    supporters are more motivated than the other candidates and will
    vote in proportionately higher numbers. I assume that 50% of Ron
    Paul supporters will vote in the Republican primary. That is,
    8.2% of Giuliani’s supporters will vote. 8.2% of Romney’s supporters
    will vote. Etc…, but 50% of Paul’s supporters will vote.

And the
winner is…

In this
calculation, the assumption that Paul supporters turn out in proportionally
greater numbers means that the total number of voters increases
slightly, from 8.2% to 10.7%, while Paul’s share of the votes increases
disproportionately, from 5% to 23%. Also, since the extra 2.1% turnout
will exclusively vote for Ron Paul, the other candidate’s take will
decrease, i.e. Giuliani goes from 28% in the media poll to
21% in my theoretical primary.

`

media poll

additional
Paul supporters

total

`

# voters

82,000

20,900

107,000

(per 1,000,000)

% turnout

8.2%

2.1%

10.7%

`

%
turnout for Paul: 50%              % turnout
for others: 8.2%

`

media poll
%

poll votes
per million

# supporters
per million

est. votes
per million

est. final
vote %

Giuliani

28%

22,960

280,000

22,960

21%

Thompson

19%

15,580

190,000

15,580

15%

McCain

16%

13,120

160,000

13,120

12%

Romney

11%

9,020

110,000

9,020

8%

Huckabee

10%

8,200

100,000

8,200

8%

Paul

5%

4,100

50,000

25,000

23%

Hunter

4%

3,280

40,000

3,280

3%

Tancredo

3%

2,460

30,000

2,460

2%

No opinion

5%

4,100

50,000

4,100

4%

Total

100%

82,000

1,000,000

107,000

100%

November
9, 2007

Kathryn
Muratore [send her mail]
has a PhD in biology from UC Berkeley and is currently a postdoctoral
fellow at Johns Hopkins.

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