Those Paul Poll Numbers

Picking Apart the Poll (Paul) Numbers

by James Ostrowski by James Ostrowski


The Ron Paul earthquake has turned into a snowball rolling downhill, gathering mass and speed daily. Press attention is up, money is flowing in and smears are missing their mark. His Republican opponents juggle miscellaneous political problems while Fred Thompson auditions for Hamlet:

And thus the native hue of resolution Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought, And enterprises of great pith and moment With this regard their currents turn awry, And lose the name of action.

Only one obstacle remains before Ron Paul is deemed a real contender and we can get onto the issues: the opinion polls.

We are right to be skeptical of polls, particularly early polls about small turnout primaries and caucuses. However, experience shows they do very roughly portray public opinion at any given time. Ron needs to slowly creep up to and pass at least one "leading contender."

How is Ron doing in the polls? I hate to say this as it will reinforce my "pie in the sky" image on these things, but he is doing fine. What’s more, he will pass that contender soon.

He is starting to get a steady 2—3% in national and large state polls. He’s at six percent in Texas which is his home state but so what? It’s the second largest state and its electoral votes still count even if you’re from there.

A careful reading of the polls suggests that Ron’s numbers will gradually rise over time. First, there is widespread dissatisfaction with the best-known Republican contenders. 57 percent of Republicans are not satisfied with the field at this point. Next, consider name recognition. Perhaps half of the population has now heard of him but most have little basis yet to make an informed judgment. It has been observed that Ron Paul does well among those who know him well. That fact argues for optimism as the public learns more and more about him. In contrast, the leading Republican candidates are close to 90 percent in name recognition but have generated no great enthusiasm among the public. The least known of the three — Romney — is so charismatically-challenged that he needs to spend four million dollars for each national poll point.

Now consider the match up numbers. Here’s how the candidates match up against the Democratic nominee in waiting:

Giuliani 43; Clinton 44 Romney 42; Clinton 46 McCain 38; Clinton 47 Paul 34; Clinton 49

Given the vastly greater name recognition, spending and media coverage of the "big three," Paul’s performance is fabulous. It also bears out my point that anyone who runs against Hillary starts out with nearly half of the country wishing them well. Any political pro would look at those numbers and pronounce the Paul-Clinton race "winnable" in about two seconds.

Finally, public opinion on the leading issues in the campaign leans toward Ron Paul. The number-one issue will be the war. 69 percent disapprove of the way George Bush is handling Iraq and only 57 percent of Republicans support him. Factor in those states that allow independents to vote and this issue becomes a strong asset to Paul, the only anti-war Republican. He will never be one-on-one with a pro-war Republican.

Polling on immigration can be fuzzy but certainly most Republicans favor a strong enforcement approach as does Ron Paul. McCain and Giuliani are open-borders types. The third leading issue will be health care. Here, many polls seem to favor the Democrats’ ill-defined plans for "universal care." The problem with the polls, however, is that Ron Paul’s position, the free market, is never one of the choices. With his personal background in health care and complete command of the economic principles involved, he will be able to effectively check that Democratic edge in the debates.

So, all indications are that Ron’s numbers will continue to slowly rise in the coming weeks. How will we know when he has reached the promised land of "contenders"? That’s easy. When he passes Romney’s national poll number of about ten percent. Since all agree that Romney is a "contender," when he is eclipsed by Ron Paul, the media will be hard-pressed to deny him the same consideration.

Prediction: Mitt Romney will soon be hearing the footsteps of a former track star.

July 26, 2007

James Ostrowski is an attorney in Buffalo, New York and author of Political Class Dismissed: Essays Against Politics, Including "What’s Wrong With Buffalo." See his website.