Ron Paul and Opinion Polling

Ron Paul and Opinion Polling
© Lasse Pitkaniemi
July 14, 2007

This article originally appeared on LewRockwell.com. Reprinted here will permission of the author.

Many supporters have been wondering or even worrying about the weak 1-3% opinion polling support Ron Paul has had. There are several reasons why opinion polling produces these results that most people do not know about.

1) Opinion polls are mostly conducted by using telephone landlines. The reason is that landline numbers are easy to obtain, and they produce a fairly accurate and random result for most questionnaires. As known from marketing, each product has a life cycle, and those who hang on to landline numbers tend to be late adopters of new technology. These late adopters do not use the internet, so they have (most likely) not even heard of Ron Paul. For them the choice is still between Rudy McRomney which is thus reflected on the polling result. Due to this sampling error the real support for Ron Paul is most likely stronger than the opinion polls show.

2) Many opinion polls count answers selectively. They reason that by counting only certain given opinions, uncertainty and randomness will be reduced in the opinion polling results. For example, the opinion polls ask questions such as: are you a registered supporter of the Republican party, have you voted in primaries before, what is your yearly income, when where you born etc. These questions are then used to eliminate groups such as non-registered republicans or young people. Even if this elimination is mostly statistically justified, it reduces the showing support for surprise candidates such as Ron Paul, especially when an important part of Ron Paul's campaign is to mobilize voters who do not usually vote in primaries.

3) In order to reduce the inaccuracy between two polls conducted by the same pollster, vote multipliers are added, which can be based on earlier polls, prior elections, "scientific" analyzes or just simply guesses. Here is how they work. Let's say that a vote multiplier for Rudy Gulliani is 1.2, for John McCain 1.5 and for Ron Paul -3.0. If the pure poll gives Gulliani 25%, McCain 10% and Ron Paul 10% of the vote, the opinion polls are counted to show 30% for Gulliani, 15% for McCain and only 3% for Ron Paul. The chances are that opinion polls for Ron Paul have negative multipliers, since no-one conducting the polls believes that he can win. The same phenomenon has happened in various European countries during the last five years when so-called far right parties (with anti-immigration, anti-EU and fiscal conservative views) have taken many land sliding victories, even if their results in opinion polls have been often either poor or mediocre.

4) Opinion polls are not value free or interest neutral. Even if the opinion polling company would want to conduct a poll on honest scientific standards, they still know that their poll has been ordered by USA Today, NBC, FOX News, the Washington Post or the New York Times. So a polling company's self interest is to produce a result that the mainstream media likes. These news agencies are not interested in polls that predict a great result for Ron Paul, if they would get one, they would not publish it. This can be seen by just looking back at the polling results from as late as late April. During late April most polls did not even include Ron Paul as a potential running candidate! He only starts to show up regularly after mid-May, where as undeclared 'candidate' Fred Thompson has been included since the very beginning.

Opinion polls often lie, just like statistics do. The opinion polling for the Republican primary clearly underestimates Ron Paul's real popularity, which may already be around 10%. For example, sportsbook.com (a betting site - not a pro Ron Paul site) currently places his odds 5th in the Republican candidate nomination race and 9th in the 2008 Presidential Elections. But let's suppose that I am wrong and the opinion polls do show the real support for Ron Paul. Still, his chances for winning are very good, for the following reasons.

1) As Justin Ptak correctly pointed out, "the national polls are entirely a reflection of name identification, not voters' views of the candidates." For example Carter was only polling 1% in 1975 and he won the presidency. Back in 1991 Clinton's support was at 2% and he became the president. Joe Lieberman was leading the Democratic presidential nomination in 2003, yet he failed to win a single primary.

2) The opinion polls also fail to grasp that the Ron Paul revolution is not only a revolution of ideas; it is also revolutionizing campaign methods. Campaign methods seldom change, but in the US presidential elections they have done so twice in the past. Back in 1825 when John Quincy Adams won the presidency he revolutionized campaigning by distributing buttons and other campaign gimmicks. A second campaigning revolution took place in the 1961 elections when the televised mass media made JFK the president. The Ron Paul revolution of 2008 could be the third campaigning revolution. Earlier it was easier for politicians to lie and get away with it. Today prior speeches and voting records are easily obtainable and thus politicians become increasingly accountable of what they have ever said or done. Furthermore the mass media can no longer determine the election winners. In such an environment the few sincere honest politicians like Ron Paul will win.

3) All conducted opinion polls measure the general opinion on candidates. In elections where half the nation votes, such as the presidential election, the opinion poll results are crucial. In elections where only a minority of activists vote the opinion polling results are unimportant. The primaries are activist elections and despite all attempts to reduce uncertainty and randomness by the opinion polling companies (e.g. by methods mentioned above), the randomness and uncertainty still remains. This is due to the fact, that it is almost impossible to separate the activists from the rest in an opinion poll. For example, in the presidential primaries of 2004 only 7.2% of the Americans voted! The Democratic turnout was 11.4%, the Republican turnout only 6.6%! In these cases straw polling matters more than general opinion polls, since straw polls are conducted in places where only the best informed and most active voters gather. In straw polls Ron Paul has done extremely well, always placing first or second, once he even made a land sliding victory gaining 65% of the popular support!

4) The opinion polls give out the impression that a candidate needs to gather millions of votes in most states in order to get the party's presidential nomination. As noted above, with only 7.2% of the Americans voting in the 2004 primaries, this is not the case. For example, in New Hampshire with a population of 1,200,000 the size of the voting age population is around 1,000,000. If 20% of the shire folk would vote (an extremely high number for a presidential primary) 200,000 votes would be cast. Half would be democratic votes. Thus even if Ron Paul would race himself against all the other republican candidates, he would win with just 51,000 votes. And this is the pessimist scenario. Most likely the voting turnout will be around 10% and no other GOP candidate will gather more than 30% of the state's votes. In this case Ron Paul will win the New Hampshire primary with only 15,000 votes! As the CNHT straw poll shows, Ron Paul already has 200 votes and judging by some videos, there are at least a thousand dedicated Ron Paulians in New Hampshire. How hard can it be for them to gather 14,000 more votes for Dr. Paul? Using the same analogy, in California, the most populous state of the Union with 36,500,000 people, the GOP primary can be won with only 450,000 votes. Ron Paul will be aided further by the fact that five small states of Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Wyoming and Maine hold their primaries before Super-Tuesday and every single primary victory will give him an election boost. The smaller the state is, the easier it is to gather a grassroots movement that can influence the election result.

In the primary phase of the presidential elections the ingenuity of the Ron Paul campaign will be clearest. All other GOP candidates adhere to some stripe of neoconservatism, which will only attract the support of the old voters (i.e. of those 6.6% of the Republicans that voted in the 2004 presidential primary). The neoconservative message is old and widely hated. Ron Paul provides a culturally conservative, libertarian option with fresh ideas that appeal not only to many old voters, but to thousands of new voters who have never voted in primaries before. He has already succeeded in turning the whole Constitution party, half of the Libertarian party and many, many anti-war Democrats into registered Ron Paul Republicans. Ron Paul is also about to succeed in waking up the elderly Republican voters with the traditional conservative Republican message of life, liberty and property. The neoconservatives cannot beat him. Their individual candidates are all too power hungry to give up the race and join forces under one name in order to defeat Dr. Paul. With the primaries moved closer to each other they have no longer the option to drop out in the middle of the race, meaning that the neoconservative vote will be shattered between a dozen candidates in every, single, state.

The Ron Paul revolution has already succeeded. It has brought a lot of attention to the libertarian ideas of peace and a limited government. It has also put a strain on the mass media, who can no longer deliver any information they want in any manner they please. Just like a real revolution the Ron Paul revolution has become a movement everyone wants to join. The real test for the Ron Paul revolution is not the victory over the GOP nomination, the question is how to win the presidency from a Hillary-Obama ticket, which will undoubtedly be seen as a dream team by the academia, the mass media, the special interest groups, the bureaucrats and the politicians.

Lasse Pitkaniemi is a 24-year-old Swedish-speaking Finnish political scientist and economist.




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Why don't we comission a poll

Why don't we commission a poll from a respected polling agency with parameters more likely to representative of the true support for Ron Paul?

Ron Paul and Opinion Polling

Excellent article! So, RP needs name recognition so that he gets registered in the traditional polls. The timing may or may not be right yet, but radio ads during the popular talk shows will go a long way towards that objective.