WASHINGTON, DC, March 17, 2013 - By now, the results of the CPAC presidential straw poll are well known: Sen. Rand Paul won with 25% of the vote and Sen. Marco Rubio came in second with 23%. Former Senator Rick Santorum was a distant third at 8% and all the rest trailed off in a nice asymptotic curve, never touching the horizontal line as there were 34 names on straw poll and another 44 written in.
What do the results mean? Less, perhaps, than pundits imply.
Rand Paul likely scored well in part on the strength of his recent filibuster and his Thursday speech at CPAC. Sen. Ted Cruz, at 4%, was warmly received by the crowd but suffered in the poll from that fact that he gave his speech after the results were announced. Neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson also received 4% despite the fact that he has no experience in politics. Reagan and Goldwater each got one write-in vote but barring an appearance on a Democrat ticket, aren’t likely to run again.
While senators did the best in the straw poll, senators do not make good presidents. The current administration is a case in point with the president, vice president and a number of cabinet members formerly serving as senators.
Historically, governors and generals with executive experience have made good presidents.
The poll is a reflection of current popularity but also a reflection of the voting population. The CPAC poll has never claimed to be scientific. This year, there were a little over 2900 votes. About half were younger voters: 52% were in the 18-25 year old age group. Only 7% were in the upper 50s to lower 60s group.
CPAC had sought to attract young people this year and they succeeded. NRA President David Keene spoke about the changing demographics of the Republican Party earlier in the day.
Fully 50% of all votes cast by people under 30 in GOP primaries in 2012 were for Ron Paul. This statistic elicited cheers from the crowd. The results make more sense in light of this fact and the demographic make up of the voters: Ron Paul was virtually the only GOP candidate to reach out to college students and young people in 2012.
The Ron Paul Revolution was also reflected in the results of the policy questions: 77% favored reducing size and scope of government and 72% favored balancing the budget by spending cuts alone. Sixty-eight percent favored targeted cuts vice across the board cuts. Fully 86% oppose using drones to kill US citizens on US soil and half agreed with the proposition that US allies should take up their own defense; only 34% felt the US should continue to be the world’s policeman. Seventy percent opposed using drones to spy on US citizens.
Congress comes in for a lot of criticism for gridlock but 54% of this poll approved of the job Congress was doing.
David Keene, who himself went to Washington as a young Reagan conservative, reminded the audience that this has all happened before. Establishments do not always react well when new people join an organization in large numbers. In 1964 it was Goldwater conservatives. Over time, the news ones begin to resemble the old ones. As a movement, conservatives must continue to reach out and if we do, Keene said, we will continue to be vibrant.
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