Ron Paul to Win CPAC Straw Poll Again!

Ron Paul is poised to win the CPAC Straw Poll. So what?

Libertarian Republican Ron Paul has mustered his forces to win the 2011 CPAC Straw Poll.  Politico’s Ben Smith:

The Conservative Political Action Conference’s annual straw poll typically indicates three things: Whom CPAC’s segment of the conservative base prefers for president; who bought tickets for their supporters; and whether Ron Paul is really trying.

The evidence so far this year is that Paul — who won big in 2010, and whose energetic core of supporters have proven a lot better at winning him beauty contests than primaries — is in it to win it.

“It will tell the country a whole lot about the enthusiasm the young people have for liberty,” Paul said in a video exhorting his supporters to flood the conference.

Paul’s Campaign for Liberty, the a 501(c)4 organization he founded after ending his ’08 campaign, has in fact put together an extensive, and expensive, campaign for the conference. A source close to the conference said the Paul group bought 1,000 tickets to the conference, and a Paul aide told another Republican that they’d recruited at least 700 supporters to vote for him.

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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. PJ says:

    In 1980, they picked Ronald Reagan, who then won the general election.
    In 1984, they picked Ronald Reagan, who then won the general election.
    There was no CPAC/ straw poll in 1988?
    There was no CPAC/ straw poll in 1992?
    There was no CPAC/ straw poll in 1996?
    In 2000, they picked George W Bush, who won the general election.
    There was no CPAC/ straw poll in 2004?
    In 2008, they picked Mitt Romney, who wasn’t nominated and the nominee, McCain, ended up losing the general election.

    Looks like CPAC has never, in an election year, picked a winner, who ended up winning the nomination and then losing the general election.

  2. James Joyner says:

    PJ: It appears that CPAC used to only hold the straw poll in election years and didn’t bother in years where there was a sitting Republican president eligible for re-election until recently.

  3. PJ says:

    @PJ:
    “Looks like CPAC has never, in an election year, picked a winner, who ended up winning the nomination and then losing the general election.”

    I have to redact that.
    According to Google Timeline, in 1996, Bob Dole won the CPAC straw poll with 26%. (Pat Buchanan got 24% and Steve Forbes 11%).

    So Bob Dole won both the CPAC straw poll and the nomination and then ended up losing the general election.

  4. TG Chicago says:

    “It appears that CPAC used to only hold the straw poll in election years and didn’t bother in years where there was a sitting Republican president eligible for re-election until recently.”

    Using your results, they had a poll in 1984 when there was a sitting Republican president eligible for re-election. And they did *not* have one in 1988 when there was *not* a re-electable Republican as president.

    As PJ shows, the wiki page seems to be incomplete.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @TG: That could be. Still, we’ve got a pretty representative sample. CPAC straw polls reward organization and appeal to very conservative college kids; that’s seldom the path to election.

  6. ponce says:

    It’s a good measure of a candidate’s supporter enthusiasm.

  7. TG Chicago says:

    Organization and base seem to be important steps on the road to a nomination, don’t they? I mean, I don’t dispute what you say about actual success rates (Graham, Bauer, Giuliani, Allen, etc) but it seems like it’s at least a bit relevant.

    Perhaps a more important consideration is that if CPAC straw voters are mostly young, then it makes sense that they’d lean towards fresher faces and new approaches. On the other hand, it’s surely true that GOP bigwigs prefer longtime known quantities. And the bigwigs have the money that can sway the nomination battles.

  8. Elijah says:

    You are absolutly right that straw polls dont really mean too much. What really matters is what candidates can take the party at the precinct level in the off season…Ron Paul.

  9. Simply put, Ron Paul was victorious... says:

    =(

    Ron Paul’s principled Conservatism simply out performed the field; it’s the name of the game, it’s politics, it’s our Democratic Republic in action, so … let’s all cry about Ron Paul’s victorious day and make pathetic excuses for it.

    B-o-o H-o-o.

    Btw…

    Those who continue pointing to the fact YAF kicked Ron Paul to the curb, you should begin reporting how the Conservative youngsters within YAF are now revolting against YAF’s moronic leadership for kicking Ron Paul to the curb; youngsters are leaving YAF in droves, they’re now kicking YAF to the curb.

    The YAF story is hilarious….

    Think about it, YAF was originally Barry Goldwater’s fan club; Barry Goldwater Jr. endorses Ron Paul these days, but … Micheal Jones and a bunch of other infiltraiting RINOs tried to pretend Ron Paul isn’t Conservative enough by Barry Goldwater’s standards.

    LOL.. YAF’s leadership is freaking retarded.

  10. Simply put, Ron Paul was victorious... says:

    Correction…

    The RINOs who infiltrated YAF’s leadership are freaking retarded.

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/blogs/weigel/archive/2011/02/14/young-americans-for-liberty-at-war-with-young-americans-for-freedom-over-ron-paul.aspx

    That said, if the RINO’s intention was to destroy YAF from the inside, so be it — they’re victorious, but if their goal was to make Ron Paul look like he lost anything, then the RINOs are a bunch of morons.