Thursday, January 3, 2008

Iowa Caucus

Well, tonight is the big night. Tonight we find out whether Ron Paul’s support is as wide as it is deep, or if we’ve been fooling ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong—this isn’t ‘win or die’ here. But if Paul does no better than his polls would indicate (9%), then we, the members of the Ron Paul R3VOLution, have been kidding ourselves with our belief that Paul’s support is better measured by the number of straw polls he’s won (25, more than any other Republican candidate this cycle) or the amount of money he’s raised (nearly $20 Million last quarter, likely more than any other Republican), or the number of online polls he’s won (countless, but the current AOL Straw Poll [dead link] is probably the most interesting), or the number of MeetUp groups he has (1,442, with a stunning 90,000 members, more than any other candidate, Republican or Democrat) than by the actual polling data, which, many contend, are biased against Paul because a) many Paul supporters are more technically savvy than most and are therefore more likely to use cell phones, which often aren’t called in traditional polls, and b) pollsters contact “likely Republican voters,” which excludes many Paul supporters who haven’t voted, or haven’t voted Republican, in the past.

It’s hard to know how accurate these charges are, and therefore how likely traditional polls are to be inaccurate. I have had very little luck in discovering the actual methodology used by these polls. Only once or twice have I seen a poll say what its criteria for “likely Republican voters” is, but at least once the method was to ask the respondent if they intended to vote in the primary/caucus, and if so, for which party. I have also seen polls that specifically said that they included cell phones in their calls. Given all this, it’s really hard to know whether these criticisms of traditional polls hold water. It seems likely that they hold to some degree, but given that professional polling organizations stake their reputations on getting it right, one would think that at least some polls would indicate Paul’s true level of support, and he’s yet to get more than 10% in any traditional national or state poll that I’ve seen. And there is one online poll that he’s losing: the USA Button Poll. This one is interesting in that you actually have to spend some money and buy a button in order to be counted. It’s easy to vote in an online poll. It can also be fairly simple to vote multiple times from multiple email addresses, or whatever. But when you actually charge money in order to vote, it infuses a level of honesty that might not be there otherwise, especially when it’s something stupid like a button poll that no one in their right mind would waste enough money to rig.

On the other hand, there are some indications that Paul will do better than expected tonight. First there are the aforementioned flaws in the traditional polls, which even Zogby himself seems to admit might cause Paul to do noticeably better than expected. Second, there can be no denying that Paul’s supporters are passionate and dedicated. This means that any given Paul supporter is probably more likely to take the time and effort to caucus than supporters of other candidates. Third, Dr. Paul really does have a lot have a lot of money in the bank, and he’s spending it in Iowa to establish an organization that will get out the vote. Fourth, there is still a significant chunk of undecided and unsure voters in Iowa, and caucuses give little speeches before voting. Given that the rhetoric of the Paul campaign is appealing to many people and that Paul supporters are generally going to be less likely to change their votes at the last minute, if Paul supporters comport themselves in a calm, respectful, non-wacko manner, Paul seems likely to pick up last minute votes that polls could not detect.

So we’ll see tonight. If Dr. Paul does badly, does that mean I’m going to give up on him? No. Regardless of what happens, Ron Paul has made a difference that will last for years in the future, and I intend to be a part of that, even after this Presidential race is over. In fact, I’ve already been named a Precinct Captain, so I’ll be helping out until the Illinois Primary, at least.

So: My predictions. It looks likely that Huckabee will place first, followed fairly closely by Romney, but it could easily go the other way. Paul has a strong chance of placing third; that’s what I’m fervently hoping for. If not third, then a strong fourth after McCain. If Paul doesn’t finish ahead of both Thompson and Giuliani, neither of whom have actively campaigned in Iowa, it bodes ill for Paul’s eventual nomination. On the other hand, if Paul finishes a solid third in Iowa, then goes on to place first or second in New Hampshire, he will have shown himself to be a serious contender with a real shot at the nomination.

Update: June 18, 2013So how did it turn out? Were my predictions correct? Here are the results:

Mike Huckabee40,95434.36%17
Mitt Romney30,02125.19%12
Fred Thompson15,96013.39%0
John McCain15,53613.03%3
Ron Paul11,8419.93%2

Paul’s fifth-place showing, with no higher vote percentage than predicted by the polls, was disappointing. It’s interesting, though, to see how little you could have told about the final outcome from this: Thompson, as Zogby predicted, didn’t last long after this (though that was certainly not my prediction), and McCain was, of course, the ultimate winner of the Republican primary process.

No comments: