On Ron Paul's Chances and Opinion Polling

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There is no
doubt about it, Ron Paul can win. His opponents have a good excuse
to challenge this claim, as they correctly reason that the only
thing that can stop the Ron
Paul Freedom Train
is if fence sitters and likely supporters
dismiss Ron Paul’s campaign as a long shot and thus decide not to
get involved. Although this view gives his opponents a strategic
advantage, it isn’t really justified. Those who dismiss Paul’s chances
are saying that a candidate who had the third most cash on hand
after the last quarter, who raised over 4 million in a single day
and whose following surpasses over fifteen folded the following
of all other Republican candidates, simply doesn’t stand a chance
in the primaries. Ron Paul’s supporters have been accused for the
past six months of spamming online and text messaging polls up to
the point where the polls themselves have become meaningless. During
the last months they’ve been also accused of spamming straw
polls
, campaign funding, GOP debates, online
gambling
, TV shows, Intrade
markets
, Democratic debates, traditional yard advertising and
the campaign events of other GOP candidates. So, if the Paul supporters
really have the power and ability to spam practically everything
there is to spam, what stops them from spamming (and thus winning)
the general elections? Oh, I know, it’s the pesky opinion polls
isn’t it?

As I have written
earlier
extensively on the methodological and general problems
of these so called scientific polls, I will only highlight their
most significant flaw: bad representation. In general there are
only two ways to do opinion polls. Either you select a group of
people who voted in the previous GOP primary or you select all Republicans
and Republican leaning who say that they will vote in the GOP primaries.
Both give a bad and biased sample. If you select all those who voted
in the last GOP primaries, you will get a sample consisting of hardcore
neocons only. No wonder you get no support for Ron Paul in these
polls. Luckily, opinion polls are almost never conducted in this
way. Instead the pollsters use republicans and republican leaning
who self select themselves by stating that they will “most likely
vote in the GOP primary”. Now, let’s take a closer look at this
self selected group.

In the last
GOP primaries only 6.6% of the Republicans voted. The number for
the 2008 primaries will most likely be seemingly under 15% but above
the previous record low 6.6%. In order to obtain a result consistent
with reality, this would mean that out of all Republicans and Republican
leaning interviewed, around 90% would reply, in theory, “wouldn’t
vote” to the pollster. In practice the polls show that less than
5% claim that they won’t vote. This means that if 95% of Republicans
and Republican leaning would vote, the outcome of the election would
be roughly as these polls predict. But as only approx. 10% vote
in the GOP primaries it means that there are just 15% valid picks
in the polls (those who really vote and the 5% that say they don’t)
and an amazing 85% random meaningless candidate picks. Compare this
to a question “which computer company would you support” and say
that 40% would reply Dell, 30% HP and 20% Mac. This doesn’t automatically
translate into Dell having a 40% market share the next year if only
10% of the interviewed persons would be buying a computer and there
would be simply no way to tell which ones of those “yes”-answerers
would represent the purchasers.

An interesting
question is why so many people answer “yes, I will vote” to the
pollsters when most of them clearly won’t? Partially this is a psychological
phenomenon. Individuals reply yes to the question since they reason
that a virtuous citizen does vote and they see themselves as good
people (which they undoubtedly are). An even larger reason is that
pollsters try
to force answers
from the individuals. Pollsters have to do
this for two reasons: 1) a large amount of non-responses disqualifies
most statistical tests and thus a large amount of non-responses
would also disqualify the survey and 2) pollsters simply can’t afford
to do a survey where enough people are interviewed if 90% of the
replies would be “wouldn’t vote”. In order to get a statistically
accurate result from 300 million Americans a pollster needs to interview
at least 400 individuals (2,500 is recommended). If 90% of the replies
would refuse, the pollster would have to conduct anywhere from 4,000
to 25,000 interviews. The largest poll this year has interviewed
roughly 1,500 potential voters and in around half of all the polls,
the number of interviews has been less than 400 individuals and
thus those polls can be disqualified as being too inaccurate.

If this isn’t
enough proof, I can still point to the polls themselves. I remember
seeing one poll few months back where about 70% of the GOP voters
didn’t have an opinion about Ron Paul. As readers know, that’s not
simply possible. Even the old media frequently defines Ron Paul
as “the most loved and the
most hated
GOP candidate”. This is fairly true. Neocons and
pro-warians hate him. Liberty lovers and anti-war activists adore
him. When 70% of the GOP voters don’t have an opinion about Paul
it simply means that they don’t know who Paul is. Mike Huckabee
got roughly the same treatment, even if he is clearly among the
nicest GOP candidates and definitely someone to prefer over the
greatly faulty four horsemen of apocalypse. Some
polls
also suggest that 23% have never heard of Romney and 23%
have never heard of Fred Thompson. Furthermore 6% didn’t know who
Giuliani was. On top off it all, between 10 and 20% of likely voters
don’t have an opinion about the four so called GOP frontrunners.
Of course, in some cases, these figures include Democratic voters
too, but it still doesn’t change the fact that if you can’t name
the frontrunners of the Other Party you probably aren’t a very likely
primary voter.

In my previous
article
I stated that Ron Paul can win the New Hampshire primary
with just 15,000 votes and that Paul can in fact succeed because
so many past Democrats like Carter and Clinton have won the Presidency
with extremely low polling numbers (I’ll return to Carter and Clinton
in a bit). I do admit that the NH example was a bit off due to the
fact that the number of people participating in the GOP New Hampshire
primaries where almost 30% last presidential election. Still, my
previous analogy holds for almost all the other states. Ron Paul
can win the GOP nomination with less than 5 million votes jointly,
simply because the primaries aren’t very voter attractive. The last
presidential election 62% of the Republicans where pleased with
their field, currently only half
of them are
.

Remember that
the primary season is in mid winter. In most of the US this means
temperatures below 40F or in some cases below 0F. Snow, rain and
cold winds are frequent. How many neocons would bother to leave
their comfortable homes in order to cast a vote when their major
alternatives are a drag
queen
, a Mormon, two grumpy old men and a pastor-comedian who
they identify as a non-shot? Most will pass this one and those who
won’t, can’t be unified beneath one banner. The neocon vote is shattered.

Ron Paul’s
campaign is a very special one and it keeps surprising even me.
You ought to look at the opinion poll results in this light. Back
in 1975 Carter was polling 1% and he became the next president.
In 1991 Clinton was polling only 2% and he also won the presidency.
John McCain polled only 3% in 1999 and he still won the New Hampshire
primary. Even if Carter and Clinton belong to the Democratic Party
the comparison is still relevant. Yes, the Democratic Party selects
its delegates with a proportional system instead of the majority
system the Republicans use, but Carter and Clinton didn’t win the
nomination because of an even second place race, they won because
they won most Democratic primaries. This is a comparison between
apples and pears not a comparison between apples and oranges. It’s
true that the Democratic Party has witnessed more dark horses winning
in the past, but this is merely a statistical accident and by now
means does it imply that a dark horse couldn’t win the Republican
nomination next year.

While my professional
opinion is that Ron Paul has a good shot at the presidency this
doesn’t mean that his campaign wouldn’t have hurdles to overcome.
If Ron Paul doesn’t win the GOP nomination he has no chance of winning
the presidency as a third party candidate (he isn’t even planning
on running as one). Then there’s a Clinton-Richardson or a Clinton-Obama
hurdle to overcome. However, the largest problem for a Ron Paul
presidency isn’t the excellence of other contenders but the poor
media treatment he receives and the total unpredictability of his
own campaign (the later is also among his greatest assets). Anyone
who has ever run a business or raised any funds knows how hard planning
ahead is if your figures look like this: $30,000 on 11/03; $4.3
million on 11/05; $80,000 on 11/08 and roughly $1 million on 11/11.
Another disheartening bit of information for the Paul campaign has
been that many of his natural allies such as European libertarians,
Cato libertarians and Randians have refused to endorse his candidacy.
One of my favourite libertarian authors Johan
Norberg
from Sweden (who wrote In
Defence of Global Capitalism
) is endorsing John McCain;
Reason seems to endorse Giuliani and the Cato Institute is cheering
for the “anybody but Paul”-alternative. Partly this has to do with
Ron Paul’s view on immigration but the major reason for the libertarian
divide is the war. In my view (if a libertarian even could somehow
justifiable be pro-war) a libertarian should foremost be a libertarian
and not a pro-warian and thus naturally he should also endorse Paul’s
candidacy.

While the Paul
campaign suffers from these minor setbacks his campaign is not a
replay of Dean 2004. That title belongs to Obama 2008. Both Dean
2004 and Obama 2008 started out as online candidates but they were
picked up by the old media and henceforth driven by the old media.
Without this attention both campaigns would have quickly fallen
flat. These campaigns where picked up because the candidates were
seen as acceptable and they had enough of support on old media standards.
Furthermore Obama is greatly benefiting from the fact that he is
a celebrity and a minority representative – both qualities the media
loves to dance around. Ron Paul’s candidacy is a stark contrast
to Obama’s. Paul is the real internet celebrity (e.g. outperforming
Obama 20 to 1 in Meetup
groups
). But Paul is also a candidate the media naturally hates.
The media lives on political debates, controversies and conflicts
and a president Paul would bring an end to many of them. If Paul
is defeated it means that the era of the old media endures – for
now. If Paul wins – after all this ignoring, ridiculing and fighting
– it means that the old mass media is powerless. It is dead. It
has ceased to be, kicked the bucket, hopped the twig and bit the
dust. If Paul wins the old media can henceforth be ignored and forgotten
as it. Matters. Not.

Remember to
tell your family and friends, especially the elderly as they are
the ones who most frequently vote in the primaries and who (according
to some
polls
) support Paul the least. When they hear about Paul they
will most likely love him and his message. The chances are that
you will find many Old Right supporters who are furious over what
the three decades of a Bust-Clinton dynasty has done to the United
States and they are eager to get their country back.

November
10, 2007

Lasse
Pitkaniemi [send him mail]
is a 25-year-old Swedish-speaking Finnish political scientist and
economist.

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