Ron Paul's Long Tail

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The Pareto principle, also known as the “80–20 rule,” is a business model that holds that 80% of a company’s business comes from 20% of its customers, or that 80% of its revenues come from 20% of its products. In the Web 2.0 world, this model has been largely supplanted by The Long Tail, graphically depicted in yellow below:

Picture by Hay Kranen/PD

The portion shaded yellow represents the many diverse elements that make up business for a particular company. Elements that may be insignificant in of themselves gain significance when taken as a whole.

The Internet abounds with examples of the Long Tail at work. For example, most of the revenue for Amazon.com comes not from best-sellers but from more unique, specialty titles. Most of iTunes.com downloads are not for hits, but for more obscure songs. In recent years, print newspapers were undercut by smaller, niche-market, on-line upstarts, which were in turn undercut by blogs. Attempts by newspapers to emulate the competition and establish blogs have not had promising returns.

The Pareto principle seems to be the old paradigm in politics as well. A small number of candidates in a given party account for most of the attention given by the media. In turn, these candidates tend to play to the middle, trying to reach a wide range of votes by appealing to what are thought to be middle-of-the-road positions that won’t rock the boat either way. Hillary, Giuliani, and Romney represent this paradigm. Likewise, Fred Thompson has no substance, only image, and appeals to the Pareto principle. Obama and Edwards appealed to it as well, but as they are eclipsed by Hillary, they are looking to the Long Tail for support.

Other candidates are and always were Long Tail candidates. The Democrats have produced two who are right about the war. Kucinich has put forth papers of impeachment of the vice-president. Gravel has called his party’s top-tier candidates unqualified to serve as president for their lack of moral judgment in voting to enable the war. Yet the former’s call for welfare statism and the latter’s hints at world government will leave many, if not most, in the Long Tail cold.

Ron Paul is the one candidate able to unite the diverse elements in the Long Tail. His supporters range from strippers to evangelicals, from gun-totters to peaceniks, and yet his message is as mainstream as the Constitution. His libertarianism and federalism will drive crazy the busy-bodies on the left and the right who want to impose their vision on the rest of the country, but these same laissez-faire ideals will unite those in the Long Tail who simply want the federal government out of their lives. This is the key to Ron Paul’s diverse range of supporters, and why they don’t mind spending time together under the good doctor’s big tent.

But his appeal is to mainstream America as well. What could be more American than the Constitution? Attempts to discredit Ron Paul as an extremist have largely failed, and his popularity is growing, the media are giving him a fair shake, and other candidates are aping him. However, attempts by the so-called “top-tier” candidates to emulate his strategy have been as unsuccessful as big media’s attempts at blogging. Ron Paul’s Long Tail will propel him to victory.

Acknowledgment: This essay was inspired by a presentation by the author’s student, Choi Jae Yong.

November 13, 2007

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