Straw polls are often used to gauge the strength of a candidate’s performance at a specific event. They represent a snapshot of that candidate’s popularity. But they aren’t terribly reliable as an over-all indicator of performance. For one they aren’t terribly random nor are they representative across a broad spectrum. But they are often gleefully reported as though they were a legitimate definitive reflection of the candidates popularity compared to all others.
Take Texas Representative and Presidential candidate Ron Paul, for example. Now it isn’t surprising that Paul polls high in straw polls. He has been gaining in popularity for his unusual policies since he ran for President in 2008. His message has a high degree of recognition compared to, say Tim Pawlenty or Rick Santorum who haven’t run in a national campaign before.
But here is the thing that is bothersome: Paul keeps scoring high or winning altogether in these straw polls. Higher than he ought to be ranking. He won the CPAC poll back in February. He won the poll after the New Hampshire debate last week. And he just won 40% of the vote in the Republican Leadership Conference this weekend while the national front runner, Mitt Romney, dropped to fifth place. Romney triumphed at the debate last Monday. You don’t drop to fifth place in that short of time unless you made a serious gaffe since then; which he didn’t. One might suspect after bowing out of the Iowa straw poll that Romney has decided to avoid these polls as benchmarks of progress.
The Paul campaign has reportedly offered discounted tickets, lodging, and transportation to these events for his supporters so there does appear to be some stacking of the deck involved. And it’s drawing some backlash, too. Non-Paul Republicans have taken to loudly jeering the results when they are announced at the events (poor old Thaddeus McCotter got two whole votes which I’ll assume was his wife and daughter).
Now compare those results with national polling from professional outfit Gallup in roughly the same time period for each event:
Paul doesn’t even break double digits next to Palin or Romney with the exception of the 18 to 34 year old group who not coincidentally comprise the bulk of the flash mobs at CPAC and other events. So while the straw polls indicate Paul is gaining in popularity, the national polls show him to be slipping.
Even though these straw polls are inaccurate measurements in gauging popularity, media outlets report them as though they were. This gives a false impression to the general public at large which is what the Paul campaign is counting on. But they aren’t a reflection of Paul’s national popularity; they’re a reflection of how enthusiastic Paul supporters are at organizing flash mobs.
It is unlikely that this will siphon off enough votes to actually affect the outcome of the Republican Primary. At this point, it appears to be Romney’s to lose.
- Ron Paulians Spamming Internet Polls (Again) (littlegreenfootballs.com)
- Ron Paul wins straw poll, Huntsman ranks second (thenewstribune.com)
- Ron Paul Wins Another Straw Poll; Grassroots Surge for the Republican? (LA Times)
- Paul Wins RLC Straw Poll; Romney Fades to Fifth (MSNBC.com)
- Is Ron Paul’s Straw Poll Success Actually Hurting Him Politically? (Commentary Magazine)
- Mitt Romney To Skip Iowa, Florida Straw Polls (huffingtonpost.com)