On Ron Paul's Chances and Opinion Polling


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