The Paul Surge, Pt. 2

Ron Paul is still surging. I have an article forthcoming in the next issue of The American Conservative forecasting the New Hampshire primary and the role that participants in the Free State Project and other libertarian activists may play therein. At the time I wrote the article, I made the fairly bold forecast that Paul will score between 15 and 30 percent, likely closer to the former number. That forecast is now looking less and less bold.

Two polls today show Paul in the lead in Iowa: PPP has him at 23%, three percentage points beyond Romney, and Insider Advantage has him at 24%, six percentage points over Mitt. Meanwhile, PPP‘s poll of New Hampshire has Paul at 19%, good for second place behind favorite son Romney. CNN/Opinion Research puts Paul at a record-high 14% nationally, while Gallup has him at a record high for their polls, 11%.

If Paul wins Iowa, which looks like at least a 50-50 proposition right now, then all bets are off in New Hampshire. The conventional wisdom is that a Paul win hurts Gingrich and helps Romney, but if Paul can use a win in Iowa to put a scare into Romney in New Hampshire, where Romney has always been expected to run away with it, Romney comes out badly bruised as well. Mainstream commentators are finally waking up to the possibility that Paul could win Iowa and New Hampshire. Right now, I’d put the probability of that occurrence at somewhere around 15%, but if it happens, it would be an earthquake.

Incidentally, the cross-tabs on these polls are enlightening. In the PPP poll of New Hampshire, Paul’s support among those who are strongly committed is 21%, indicating his firmer base. (Romney, however, is at 41% among firmly committed voters, implying he may be able to limit damages from an Iowa loss.) Paul is viewed overwhelmingly favorably in New Hampshire (53-38), which talking heads tell us is not the case most other places. Paul is the second choice of 49% of Gary Johnson supporters (who pulls in 1% himself), 30% of Michele Bachmann supporters, and 25% of Jon Huntsman supporters. Since Huntsman is doing well in New Hampshire, this seems to confirm my suspicion that to a certain degree he and Paul are struggling over a similar pool of voters. Paul is also the second preference of 23% of Romney voters, indicating the degree to which Paul’s appeal has broadened to moderates and independents. A final point of interest is that Paul is leading the field with 28% among those who view foreign policy or national security as the most important issue in the election.

Paul’s path to victory in New Hampshire, it would seem, would require a win in Iowa and an unexpectedly poor finish for Romney. If Romney’s core supporters started to drift away, Paul and Huntsman could expect to benefit.

10 thoughts on “The Paul Surge, Pt. 2

  1. One of my fears is that a Paul surge, which I like, will cause those who really fear Paul to coalesce around Romney, whom I loathe. Romney would become the “anyone but Paul” candidate.

  2. Honestly, I loathe all of them except Johnson, Paul, and Huntsman – and Huntsman only gets out of being loathed by being too milquetoast to care much about. Romney’s nomination might at least have the virtue of lending some coattails to incumbent state house Republicans in New Hampshire, who are largely libertarian-leaning. Given that the federal government is a hopeless cause and has been for a long time and the only real prospects for political improvement are at the state level, that consideration might count for a little something.

  3. I’m skeptical. When it comes down to actually voting, I think a lot of people who like Paul for his likable qualities (and overlook his nutty ones) will realize he is completely and totally unelectable. They might loathe Romney, but more than they loathe another 4 years of Obama? Maybe. But I think NH voters are more sensible than that.

    Of course the most electable in the General is Huntsman, though his shot at the nomination is very remote (if he outperforms in NH, he would draw some anti-Romney voters in later primaries and would get a huge lift by the wing of the party that actually wants to win in November, though that wing appears less and less influential with every passing day).

  4. I never got the unelectable argument. What would be the point of nominating someone so “electable” that they basically just offer a watered-down version of Obamaism? I say it does more harm than good to have an electable moderate take office who pays lip service to economic freedom but really just offers more nanny-statism, kicking the can further down the road and sullying the name of economic freedom to ensure we have another generation of automatons who think the world would stop turning without public schools.

  5. I reply to the un-electable argument two ways. If a candidate slogs through the primary process and the party convention and obtains the nomination then one can hardly say he is un-electable. The other factor to consider is that barely sixty percent of the voting age population votes in a national election. National candidates win with 30 percent or less of the potential votes, a mere plurality. A dark horse candidate, like Ron Paul brings all kinds of voters out of the wood work, on both sides. He also sends all kinds of traditional voters scampering away, on both sides.

    1. Listen, this is the ONLY way a Republican gets elected President: by getting a bunch of people in key swing states like VA, NC, and OH who voted for Obama last time and a bunch of people who voted for McCain but are fairly moderate to vote for the GOP candidate. Such a candidate can be conservative, but he can’t be “scary conservative.”

      No amount of bringing people out of the woodwork or motivating or not motivating the base or new ideas or ANYTHING else is going to beat that basic electoral math. Given that Obama is very weak, a number of GOP candidates might pull that off.

      But Ron Paul is NOT one of them. No way. No how. He’s got so much extreme baggage that the scare attack ads will simply right themselves.

      Interestingly, at the same time a bunch of people on the Right think that Romney is not conservative enough, the Obama people are producing scare ads about what a right-wing extremist Romney is. They will do that against any GOP candidate because they understand electoral math. They know how they got elected. They know they can do it again, especially when the GOP is toying with the likes of Gingrich and Paul. Ironically, the same forces that swept the GOP into power in the House are going to lose the whole the whole thing. In electoral math, the perfect is usually an enemy of the good. Barry Goldwater was the perfect, terrible candidate. Hopefully people come to their senses.

      [And remember that there is a “woodwork” of alienated voters on both the left and the right. For every libertarian that Paul gets excited, there is a leftie who gets even more excited. And the bulk of he nonvoters are the same place as the voters: in the middle!]

  6. One has to make a distinction between winning a party nomination and winning a national election. I am still referring to the nomination.

    Because of the way the primaries are scheduled Paul and others stand a good chance of knocking Romney out. Idiots like Perry(I live in Texas) and Bachmann(my brother lives in the twin cities) will do well in the South and Midwest. Paul can poll a solid second or third behind them. Romney won’t have a chance to best anyone, except maybe Florida, until Super Tuesday. By then the narrative will change to “what happened to Romney?”

    Romney’s best states are at the back end of the calendar. Interestingly, Paul tends to poll best in the same states that Romney and Obama poll best in. Paul and Romney and Obama both do poorly in states where Perry and Bachmann will do well.

  7. I would also beg to differ with Professor Wilson’s characterization of non-voters. Anecdotally, Mmst of the garden variety redneck, black, hispanic, and asian non-voters I know here on the Gulf Coast of Texas could not be characterized as “the middle”. If you ask them why they don’t vote, their reply loosely falls into the category of either “I don’t care”, or “feel alienated from the rest of the voting public” or “my interests are not aligned with any of the candidates”. The latter two categories are energized by an outlier like Paul, though not necessarily Paul.

  8. Jason, what do you believe is, or will be, the effect on Paul’s “surge” of increasing attention to newsletters that went out under his name in the 1980s and 90s some of which contained offensive, race-related material?

    1. Well, people who were paying attention knew about this stuff back in ’08, so as far as “elites” in the blogosphere and media go, it’s old hat. However, it’s unclear how many voters know about it. The GOP establishment has now started throwing everything they can at Paul – not just the newsletters, but accusing him of being a 9/11 “truther,” all sorts of stuff. I expect he’ll take a hit, but my understanding is that he still has the money to dominate the airwaves in IA and NH up until the NH primary. So this may stop his momentum but might not ruin his chances.

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