• 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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