Why hasn’t Ron Paul done better?

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Here are some quick thoughts.

My optimism about Ron Paul was based on my view that he would start out with a base of about ten percent, the soft libertarian vote. In a sharply divided field with an extremely mediocre group of rivals, it seemed possible that if he caught fire, he could get to the mere 25-30 percent he needed to win some early primaries. Then, anything could happen.

Actually, that base projection was not far off. Leaving aside caucuses, he did get 8% in New Hampshire and even at a later date he got nearly 7% in NY!

In caucus states, he has in fact done very well and that’s no surprise. His caucus numbers are: 17, 8, 16, 25 (2nd), 21, 10, and 10: average–15! The media of course has ignored those strong performances.

But leaving caucuses aside, Ron has not done well in primaries. He has not broken into double digits. Why?

First, there has been a nearly-total media blackout since about three days before the Iowa Caucuses. Ron did get some press before that but it suddenly stopped. Most voters tune in a few days before the election so it appeared to the causal voter than he wasn’t even running anymore or never was.

Second, when he was mentioned in the press, 90% of the references were negative and the voters were told he could not win. (No one told them Huckabee could not win when he had 5% in the polls.) His views have been distorted and he was the subject of several smears.

Third, too many voters view elections like a horse race where the goal is to pick a winner. That makes no logical sense of course, but this is a powerful sentiment running through the population. It serves to maintain the status quo and gives power to the pundits to tell the people who can win.

Fourth, his platform has more support in the general population than in the narrow confines of the Republican primary vote. He has gotten very little support from Evangelicals or elderly people, both large voting blocks. The groups he has done well with, young people, blacks, secularists, anti-war, moderates, are scarce in the GOP.

Fifth, he is “not telegenic enough” and some may think he is too old. However, he is as fit as fiddle, a former star athlete and has run circles around his opponents in debates. He destroyed the hostile Tim Russert on Meet the Press.

Sixth, Ron Paul threatens powerful special interests and they of course have opposed him and voted against him.

Seventh, his libertarian philosophy is poorly understood and usually distorted. Libertarianism is a great product that has been very poorly marketed. I see that all the time in internet exchanges when critics display no real understanding of it.

Eighth, no doubt there is widespread hostility to libertarian ideas even when they are to some extent understood.

Ninth, it is apparent that a large percentage of the population simply lacks the critical thinking skills to dig beneath clichés and slogans and truly understand Ron Paul’s positions on the war, the economy and civil liberties.

All that said, it would be nice to know how Ron Paul would do if he received fair media coverage but we will never know.

Finally, a more general comment. Political voting is a fundamentally irrational and arbitrary process. Why don’t people invest in the time required to make a more informed choice? Why should they? Their single vote is as likely to decide an election as the Moon is to crash into the earth this year. Compare political voting to voting in the marketplace. You have a strong incentive to research major decisions in the market as you will actually get the product or service you research.

Also, in the marketplace, you bear the costs of your purchasing decisions. In political voting you do not. You can vote for all kinds of expensive and destructive policies, war in Iraq, war on drugs, etc., without paying any individual price for that decision.

I have always contended that the war on drugs would immediately end if people had to pay their pro rata share of its costs each year out-of-pocket.

There are no easy answers here but the power of the MSM will continue to decline as the internet gets stronger. And we must figure out how to market ourselves better, not that we haven’t already tried.

10:10 am on February 7, 2008