Rand Paul Wins Meaningless CPAC Straw Poll

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul won a completely meaningless straw poll.

Rand Paul

The Conservative Political Action Conference wrapped up its business a few hours ago, and it’s apparently news that Kentucky Senator Rand Paul won a completely meaningless straw poll:

Rand Paul edged out Marco Rubio in the presidential straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference Saturday, reinforcing their standing as the preeminent favorites of the Republican base heading into 2016d

Sen. Paul (R-Ky.) received 25 percent and Sen. Rubio (R-Fla.) 23 percent of the 2,930 votes cast by attendees at the conference. Former Sen. Rick Santorum finished third, with 8 percent.

As the results were read to the crowd, Paul and Rubio both received large cheers and ovations. Trailing further behind: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie finished fourth with 7 percent, then Rep. Paul Ryan (Wisc.) with 6 percent and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker with 5 percent.

Trailing them were Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. The other 14 names on the straw ballot, and an additional 44 names written in, received a total of 14 percent.

Half of the votes cast in the straw poll came from attendees between the ages of 18 and 25, and two-thirds were men. The crowd was torn over the Republicans in Congress: only 54 percent approved of their performance.

For the recordit’s worth noting that only three  people  who won the CPAC straw poll have gone on to win the Republican nomination for President,  and only two of those have been elected President of the United States. That would be Ronald Reagan in 1980 and George W. Bush in 2000.

UPDATE (James Joyner): It’s worth noting for the record that the “meaningless” nature of the CPAC straw poll—and, indeed, straw polls, period—has been a recurring theme here for years; it’s not a specific reaction to Rand Paul’s victory. Here’s what I wrote a year ago (“Romney Wins CPAC Straw Poll (Again)“):

My position on the CPAC straw poll-and, indeed, straw polls in general-is that they’re an insipid waste of time yielding little to no useful insight. That remains true this time. CPAC, in particular, is not remotely representative of even the Republican primary electorate (it’s incredibly DC-centric and dominated by college students and activists in their 20s). And the vote is easily manipulable by organization. Ron Paul routinely does much better than his national numbers-and won the last two polls coming it to this year. (This year, he finished dead last, apparently having decided for whatever reason not to flood the convention with supporters.)

The year before (“Ron Paul to Win CPAC Straw Poll Again!“):

Bully for Ron Paul. But, at the end of the day, so what?

Wikipedia lists past winners of the CPAC Straw Poll:

1976 Ronald Reagan
1980 Ronald Reagan
1984 Ronald Reagan

1986 Jack Kemp
1987 Jack Kemp
1993 Jack Kemp
1995 Phil Gramm
1998 Steve Forbes
1999 Gary Bauer
2000 George W. Bush
2005 Rudy Giuliani
2006 George Allen
2007 Mitt Romney
2008 Mitt Romney
2009 Mitt Romney
2010 Ron Paul

I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting the winners who went on to garner the Republican nomination for president the next cycle. In fairness, we haven’t yet picked the 2012 nominee, so Mitt Romney or Ron Paul could theoretically pull it off. But the enthusiastic youngsters at CPAC have picked guys like Jack Kemp, Phil Gramm, Steve Forbes, Gary Bauer, Rudy Giuliani, and George Allen who not only didn’t get the nomination but whose presidential campaigns were utter jokes.

Mitt Romney withdrew from the 2008 race the first day of that year’s CPAC, recognizing that John McCain was the inevitable winner of the 2008 Republican nomination. By this point, Iowa, Wyoming, New Hampshire, Michigan, Nevada, South Carolina, Louisiana, Hawaii, Florida, and Maine had already voted — along with the 21 Super Tuesday states. Here’s how the CPAC Straw Poll came out:

Mitt Romney 35%
John McCain 34%
Mike Huckabee 12%
Ron Paul 12%

Yes, the plurality winner was a candidate who’d just dropped out of the race!

The bottom line is that the CPAC Straw Poll is neither a predictor of success nor even a meaningful springboard. I suppose it’s better to win it than not — who doesn’t like winning? — but it’s totally meaningless. Indeed, while I’ve attended seven out of the last eight CPACs, I’ve not bothered to participate in the straw poll a single time.

And the year before that (“Ron Paul Wins CPAC Straw Poll“):

As I noted at the outset of  the conference, straw polls in general and the CPAC straw poll in particular are meaningless. Sam Brownback beat out John McCain in the 2007 straw poll and Romney beat McCain in 2008.   As some will recall, McCain nonetheless went on to secure the nomination.

In this case, we see that Ron Paul can get out a lot of students to a limited participation contest and so can Mitt Romney.  From Sarah Palin’s poor finish, we can see that you’re unlikely to do well in the straw poll if you don’t bother to attend the conference.

Way back in 2007, when eventual 2008 nominee John McCain came in dead last (“CPAC Straw Poll“):

These three measures are equally valid bases for predicting the winner of the 2008 Republican nomination.

For example, if the contest is going to be decided by the number of college students that can be turned out with the promise of a free t-shirt and a pizza party, Brownback has a strong chance. If it’s based on a willingness to pretend that you read blogs, Romney is the definite frontrunner. And, if it’s based on being the only reason to give up a Saturday sitting around a cramped convention hotel surrounded by screaming teenagers, Gingrich can’t be discounted.

I’m going to go on record now: the results of the 2014 CPAC straw poll will be similarly meaningless. Ditto the 2016 Ames, Iowa straw poll.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Markey says:

    GOP Shrugged…………………….

  2. Tillman says:

    Well, I suppose it’s good for telling us who will appear in the Republican primaries.

  3. Only one word comes to mind:


  4. Mr. Replica says:

    Calling it.

    Paul/Rubio 2016: “We don’t need a new idea. There is an idea. The idea is called America, and it still works.”

    Just don’t ask for specifics.

  5. Voter Fraud Encouraged in the CPAC Straw Poll

    Which explains why a Paul wins so often.

  6. @Timothy Watson:

    Straw Polls are inherently fraudulent

  7. al-Ameda says:

    it would not surprise me at all to see Rand Paul as a serious contender for the 2016 or 2020 GOP nomination.

  8. @al-Ameda:

    I’m figuring 2016 is gonna be Santorum, due to a mix of his-turn-next, the belief that they reason Romney lost was that he wasn’t conservative enough, and the desire from the aging socons to get back at the young, women and GLBT people.

  9. rudderpedals says:

    @Timothy Watson: Clever! Who can say the tabulator didn’t go on to alter cast votes or generate new ones to come up with the desired tally? It’d be irresponsible not to ask.

  10. superdestroyer says:

    Wouldn’t it just be easier to point out that CPAC and conservative politics in meaningless in the US. What is amazing is that the media pays much more attention to CPAC than to all of the liberal/left of center conferences even though the liberal conventions are much more relevant than CPAC.

  11. James Joyner says:

    @superdestroyer: Even as someone who attended CPAC regularly for the past several years, until finally giving up this year, I don’t understand all the attention it gets. Presumably, it’s a function of all the big names who appear. I don’t know if there’s a comparable Democratic/progressive gathering.

  12. superdestroyer says:

    @James Joyner:

    Wouldn;t Netroots be a good equivalent juding by the list of speakers http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Netroots_Nation

    How much of a issue does the media ever make of conferences like Netroots or all of the meetings in Aspen.

  13. C. Clavin says:

    Yes Superduper…Netroots…sure…the exact same as CPAC.
    Remind me again…how many times did Obama speak there?
    I see Nancy Pelosi is speaking there…how many times has she run for President?
    Exactly like CPAC…except it’s not.

  14. @Doug Mataconis: I was referencing the well-known spamming that Ron Paul supporters did of internet polls in 2008 and 2012. 🙂

  15. Woody says:

    CPAC or Iowa straw polls : : “education reform” companies’ rent-seeking state mandated testing.

    The sole purpose of both is to provide an ultimately meaningless factoid for media to report.

  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Anyone know if the ghost of Brietbart showed up?

  17. superdestroyer says:

    @C. Clavin:

    You must have skipped over the listing of Hillary Clinton and John Edwards appearing at Netroots in 2007. That liberals are so excited that the media ignores their meetings says a lot about liberals and the media.

    The people speaking at Netroots are much more relevant to politics in the U.S. than anyone who spoke at CPAC this week. At least the people at Netroots have the ability to influence policy and governance.

  18. C. Clavin says:

    @ Superduper…
    Two also rans appeared there in 2007???
    6 years ago?
    Well I stand corrected then.

  19. Davebo says:

    @James Joyner:

    Even as someone who attended CPAC regularly for the past several years, until finally giving up this year, I don’t understand all the attention it gets.

    I’m sure they don’t care. They know they can count on you in November no matter how nutty the person is they help to win the nomination.

  20. john personna says:

    @James Joyner:

    Even as someone who attended CPAC regularly for the past several years, until finally giving up this year, I don’t understand all the attention it gets.

    It’s the best of both worlds. It is what the conservatives dream about, and a horror show for everyone else.

    I mean .. seriously?

  21. Pharoah Narim says:

    CPAC is a trade show where “Conservative” entertainers show up to market and peddle their wares to the gullible. It has nothing to do with formulating conservative policy that is sound and can resonate in national elections –its about pitching products, selling books and raising money along with ginning up a following one can bring to TV to increase ratings for Fox news appearances. No sane person believes these folks are serious about winning elections–they can’t be. In fact, the opposite can be argued. The more underdog and “back against the wall” conservatives appear to be; the more money the pigeons cough up for more “conservative” media. Frankly, its a brilliant hustle.

  22. superdestroyer says:

    @Pharoah Narim:

    Another version of the “sane” meme that, in an indirect way, makes the claim that progressives are sane and conservatives are insane. Of course, the reason progressives believe this is that no one in the media ever mocks or is snarky with progressives who claim that the U.S. can have the population of Mexico, the economic output of South Korea, and the social safety net of the Nordic Countries. Maybe when progressives work out how their policies and governance can make that happen, then they can call others insane.

  23. john personna says:


    Funny, it isn’t “progressives” of which you speak. It is “economists,” including quite libertarian ones.

  24. @Doug Mataconis:

    If straw polls are “inherently fradulent” why do you have like or dislike buttons on your blog?

  25. john personna says:


    Did the idiot downvoter read the link? You don’t find many on the left who actually endorse the reactionary straw-man of “open borders,” but there are economists who come close:

    Truly open borders might prove unworkable, especially in countries with welfare states, and kill the goose laying the proverbial golden eggs; in this regard Mr. Clemens’s analysis may require some modification. Still, we should be obsessing over how many of those trillions can actually be realized.

    (That of course from a well-known libertarian economist.)

  26. Pharoah Narim says:

    @SuperDeBoner: Im not interested in your “they do it too” dismisal of facts. In my world, conservative kool aid drinkers and liberal kool aid drinkers are the same people–they are driven by the same emotional motivations. Kool-aid comes in all flavor. Left and Right wing fundamentalists could have easily ended up as the other had they been born in different circumstances. Speakin of clowns—I hear Spencers has special on squirt gun corsages….you should get going.

  27. Andre Kenji says:

    If Conservatives that appears on TV looks appears to be nutty, blame Conservatives for that. Several networks tried to hire people to woo Conservatives – take a look at Jan Crawford, Lara Logan and Sharyl Atkisson at CBS News. Even so, Conservatives whines about how liberal CBS News is. Unless we are talking about people that are completely partisan and strident, people like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, these politicians and journalists are “liberal”.

  28. superdestroyer says:

    @john personna:

    LIbertarian economist area almost always open borders because they believe that most people should be clever enough to benefit from open borders while avoidng the downside costs. However, in a country where the government is trying to regulate how much soft drinks people can consume, I doubt if many people are clever enough to really benefit from open borders and unlimited immigration.

    Of course, even the libertarians economist admit that the immigrants will continue to come to the U.S. until the standard of living is the same as in their home country. The question then becomes why should Americans want to adopt an economic policy that is meant to drive down the standard of living to a third world level?