"number 9…number 9…number 9…" ~ from The Beatles, a.k.a. "The White Album"
Ron Paul has generated more political excitement than all of his competitors in the 2008 Republican Primary race combined. His fundraising success has been nothing short of breathtaking, and if he spends the millions he has raked in thus far wisely, he could emerge from the early January contests as a proven front-runner, poised for massive victories on "Super Duper Tuesday," February 5 – a day on which 19 states hold their primaries and some 42% of Republican National Convention delegates are up for grabs.
It sounds lovely. And it should all be plausible. But Ron Paul has a Revolution problem – one that he must rectify, so that all the time, energy and money that has gone into promoting his message can achieve victory.
What do I mean by "Revolution problem"? Well, to explain it, we need to consult a concept that has been a hot topic of discussion at LRC over the past month – the "Long Tail," a marketing concept popularized by internet business models like Amazon or iTunes, which suggests that many diverse and infinitesimal contributors to revenue can have a definitive impact when aggregated. Inspired by one of his Korean students, Joshua Snyder first introduced the concept with respect to Ron Paul's candidacy:
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…[his] 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.
Gary North then followed-up, explaining the mechanics of how the Long Tail benefits Ron Paul:
Previously, the cost of delivering information to people who have ignored politics has been high: printed pieces of paper in the mail. Now, because of the price competition of the Internet, the cost of getting your message to readers is close to free, once you have a data base of e-mail addresses…People are mobilizing behind Ron Paul because the cost of connecting with others of a similar persuasion has fallen as never before in history.
We can visualize this analysis in real life, in all of the Ron Paul bumper stickers (has anyone yet seen a bumper sticker for any of his competitors?), the signage, and most of all, the massive rallies that continue to attract hundreds and even thousands of citizens. Some are die-hard Republicans like me, some are Independents, some are Libertarians, some are Democrats, some (as Ron Paul likes to joke) are Anarchists, and most importantly – many are previously disaffected, politically disengaged, and perhaps not even registered to vote.
Given this concept of the Long Tail and its role in the 2008 race, let's have a more detailed look at what the dynamics might be, using the adapted Long Tail graph below as a reference.
On the x (horizontal) axis, we measure the distance from the political mainstream. The further left you go, the closer you are to the mainstream, and the further right you go, the more politically "quirky" you become.
On the y (vertical) axis, we have the number of available votes in the GOP primary.
We have to trace the gray line to match up the number of votes available for the various positions, and how far from the mainstream they may be. For example, at the origin (where the 2 axes intersect in the lower left corner), we are at the political mainstream, and thus there is the largest number of votes available (the gray curve is at its highest point).
As we trace the gray curve, however, we see that as we move away from the mainstream, the number of votes available decreases.
We can use this graph to understand what it will take to win the Republican Primary by calculating the area under the curve (the colored regions). In green are all the voters who exist at or close to the mainstream. These are individuals who love watching Fox News, agree with Rush Limbaugh‘s talking points, and adore the soothing sound of Mike Huckabee's “elevator music conservatism.” Their attention is focused on “regular Republican” issues like life, family, guns, borders, security, taxes.
Naturally, these are the voters to whom Ron Paul's peers pander at every opportunity. Romney, Giuliani, Thompson, McCain, and Huckabee risk injury racing to the microphone to boast about who loves God more, who will be tougher on the "Islamofascists," who cast more meaningless procedural votes that supposedly "cut taxes," etc. And they do this because the winner will be the one who captures the most green on the graph above.
Then there is the yellow region. The voters contained herein may get their news from LRC, not CNN. They may understand monetary policy. They may question their leaders and display a healthy degree of skepticism. They may reject jingoism. And a million other diverse statements might characterize these voters, or might not. The reason they are shown in yellow, however, is because probably under normal circumstances, they would not be voting at all in the Republican primary. In any other year, the graph would cut off abruptly at the end of the green region, and the candidates would have to duke it out for the largest green area.
So, it naturally follows that when the MSM reports their latest polls, they are only picking tiny drops from the vast green sea shown on the above graph. The flaws in that approach and the misleading nature of political polling have been well explicated on LRC; but more importantly, polling "likely Republican voters" entirely ignores the yellow region – the Long Tail.
Quite simply, the Long Tail shown in the graph above belongs to Ron Paul. (notice the shape differs slightly from the standard diagram, because the total area under the curve is finite, capped at the number of people who we could reasonably expect to vote in the 2008 Republican Primary)
So place the yellow region over the green one. It's considerably smaller, but still respectable. But the fight doesn't end there. It's not a 2-man race: yellow vs. green. Far from it. The green area will be cut up 6 ways, and depending upon how those 6 divisions look, the addition of the yellow area could be decisive.
This is the power of the Long Tail and its contribution to Ron Paul's presidential aspirations. Notice, the word is contribution, not characterization. This is where misapplication of the Long Tail concept can lead to trouble. An entertainment industry blogger named Ryan Holiday jumped on this point, taking issue with Joshua Snyder's initial relating of the Long Tail to Ron Paul's campaign.
On Amazon, the one person in every town that likes Finnish Death Metal can be aggregated into a sustainable consumer subset. Borders, however, can’t afford to stock product for a single fan. This naturally guides them towards products that appeal to blocs of people much in the same way that Durverger guides us to just Democrats and Republicans and leaves no room for Libertarians.
…What works on the internet does not work in US political elections. That is what Ron Paul supporters don’t understand…let’s be honest, he might be running in the Republican primary, but he’s doing it as a Libertarian, as a third party.
Bretigne Shaffer took Mr. Holiday to task, and for good reason, although I must say I do very much like his analogy between buying music and casting votes. However, I think he has confused the nature of Ron Paul's campaign. First of all, (as if it needs to be stated again) Ron Paul IS a Republican, he has been elected 10 times as a Republican, and he will be on the ballot in 50 primaries/caucuses as a Republican, competing against all the other Republicans that have participated in the Republican debates.
Secondly, Holiday misapplies his own analogy. Ron Paul already IS on the shelf in Borders. His product is well-stocked. In fact, when you walk into the store, there are 8 CDs on display, and Ron Paul's is one of them. Granted, 3 or 4 of those CDs are specially promoted by the store's managers to attract buyers, and the store clerks rave about them – but Ron Paul is there nonetheless.
Meaning: he is in the Republican debates, he is constantly interviewed on news networks, he is profiled by every major print media outlet, and he has even appeared on "The Tonight Show" and "The View" – it doesn't get any closer to the far left portion of the green area of the graph than that.
In addition to those mainstream gigs, though, Ron Paul has a huge presence in less traditional forms – like the massive internet dissemination of his message, the hundreds of YouTube clips of his speeches, congressional sparring with Ben Bernanke, etc.
So there is both green and yellow within Ron Paul's grasp. His "Greatest Hits" album is readily available on the shelf in the local record store (the mainstream portion), while his rare cuts, studio outtakes, and live jams can be purchased online (the Long Tail portion).
This seems an ideal situation in which to market, or in this case, campaign. So where's the problem? The problem is that, for a solid conservative Republican like Ron Paul, the Long Tail should be gravy, not beef. Despite having an impeccable record on all of the core Republican issues on which his competitors pander, he is polling only in the high single digits – an insufficient amount of green to win.
He needs to make better use of his product placement and get more casual buyers to pick up "Ron Paul's Greatest Hits" off the rack. The CD needs some slicker packaging. It needs some 5-star reviews smacked on the cover. And the listening station needs to feature some catchy choruses and snappy melodies, not spacey jams.
Granted, it was his focusing on the less mainstream elements that captured the Long Tail for Ron Paul, and won over the hearts and imagination of many people that have become his core supporters – the "Ron Paul R evol UTION." It is thanks to them that he has been able to raise an incredible amount of money, and make himself a real contender. But now he must tailor his message toward the green area. That doesn't mean for a moment that he ought to compromise his principles or abandon his message. He just needs right now to play to the mainstream audience. No one in the race is more pro-life, pro-gun, pro-small government, and pro-borders than Ron Paul. Those are the hit singles. Once people hear those, they'll acquire a taste for the other outstanding content. I know I did.
So what is Ron Paul's Revolution problem? Well, it's a bit of a double-entendre that refers to the recording of The Beatles (better known as "The White Album") in 1968. John Lennon's classic track "Revolution" was the source of some debate, as originally Lennon wanted to include an avant-garde segment tacked on to the melodic rock-n-roll tune, an idea resisted by Beatles' producer George Martin. Thankfully, it ended up as a separate and not-quite-mainstream track called "Revolution 9."
The point is: Ron Paul CAN win the Republican nomination for President. The Long Tail of voters, which loves his willingness to talk about issues no other candidates will, can push him over the top. First and foremost, though, is the limited government jingle he’s been singing since 1976, for which all Americans can, should, and WILL love him.
For now, Ron Paul should stick to the hits. We'll happily wait for the inaugural ball to hear him play "Revolution 9."
December 14, 2007