Sipping CPAC Through a Straw Poll

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Inner Dialogue Voice 1: Didn’t you promise everyone a follow up Ukraine piece regarding domestic respo?

Inner Dialogue Voice 2: Yeah, but now Crimea is going to have a vote to secede and including that in the second post will remove the necessity for a third and there’s only so much time I want to spend on one topic.

IDV1: If it’s an important story then it deserves coverage. You can’t just play ADHD with the news.



CPAC was founded in 1973 and has become one of the premier conservative events of the year. Everyone who is anyone in the Republican Party either gets invited to speak or pays rapt attention to everyone who does speak. The content of the speeches themselves isn’t too interesting to me as an observer. It’s largely rabble rousing and serves the purpose of stimulating the base(something that will sound sexual to me as long as I live). Those are important things, you want the people who like you to be excited about and for you. It just means that if you weren’t already under the big tent, there isn’t much of note from the speakers.

There is plenty of note from the attendees however. There are polls aplenty to take the temperature of those who paid the $250 entrance fee. Finally there is the CPAC Presidential Straw Poll, a vote of confidence in one of the speakers from the previous week.

The first question of note asked whether the US should continue to act as global police or if it’s time for our allies to provide more for their own defense.[1] <-(snazzy new citation method) The isolationist option won with a margin of 52-37 with 10% declining to answer. This was obviously a question posed with the Ukrainian conflict in mind and I was surprised at such an overt rejection of the Bush Doctrine. Two key speakers at CPAC also clashed heavily on this point. Ted Cruz wants a much harder line against Russia while Rand Paul has been labeled a ‘Foreign Policy Dove’ for his views which line up with the poll.

Even more surprising were the results of the marijuana legalization poll question.[2] If you add the people who support across the board legalization to the people who support just medical legalization, they outnumber those who wish it to remain illegal 2-1. The top response was across the board legalization with 41% of the vote. This poll was done before today’s news that Colorado made 3.5 million in taxes from the first month of legalized marijuana sales. I’m not certain that would have made a difference one way or the other, but I want to make certain the timeline is clear.

The Presidential Straw Poll winner was Rand Paul by a pretty large margin. I only want to talk about the top four, but you can see full results here.[3] Rand Paul’s win with 31%, coupled with the results I brought up earlier, make it clear that either the GOP is either heading towards Libertarianism on a bullet train powered by complaints about the Affordable Care Act or Libertarians made up a disproportional number of CPAC attendees. Either way, let’s look at what a Presidential straw poll win really means.

There have been twenty straw polls with only eight of those being won by someone who would get the party’s presidential nomination. Reagan won three times(’76, ’80, ’84), W Bush won once(’00), and Romney has won it four times(’07, ’08, ’09, ’12). Not only is winning the straw poll a poor predictor of the eventual nominee, it’s even worse at predicting the president which it has only with Reagan and Bush.

One trend that does seem stronger is as follows: in 2010 Romney came in 2nd and got the nomination in 2012, in 2006 McCain came in 2nd and got the nomination in 2008, there was no CPAC in 2002, and finally in 1998 Bush came in 2nd and got the nomination in 2000. Going by the pattern of the person in 2nd place two years before the election gets the nomination, I’d like to introduce everyone to 2016 Republican Presidential Nominee Ted Cruz who received 11% of the vote. We’ll see if he can recover nationally from the nose dive he took after he led the government shutdown. In November in the state of Texas Cruz only held a 48/45 polling lead over Clinton.[5] In Texas Cruz couldn’t even beat the margin of error for the poll over the most likely democratic opposition. That’s a tough uphill battle for a nominee if they aren’t guaranteed their home state.

Ben Carson came in third place with 9% and he is an interesting up and coming figure. He is a retired neurosurgeon who performed the first ever successful separation of conjoined twins who were joined at the head. The 2013 National Prayer Breakfast was where his political star began to rise. He spoke strongly about reforming the health care system, the need for a flat tax, and how political correctness, “puts a muzzle” on freedom of thought and freedom of expression. Since that speech he has stated, “I don’t believe in evolution,” How someone with the medical resume he has doesn’t believe in evolution is beyond me, but that’s a separate matter. Following the prayer breakfast, the Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed titled ‘Ben Carson for President'[4] All that said, he doesn’t seem to have much motivation to run. It does remain likely we’ll continue to hear his name and his thoughts as a columnist and pundit though.

Bringing up the rear of my arbitrarily declared 4th place line with 8% is Chris Christie. Say what you want about the bridge scandal and the accusations of grossly misused Sandy relief aid, this surprised me because last year Christie didn’t even get invited to show up at CPAC. He was persona non grata for daring to be photographed with Obama and attacking fellow conservatives(specifically the two senators from Oklahoma) for not voting for the Sandy Relief bill. To go from not being invited to taking fourth place in the straw poll in a year’s time is impressive.

It will be fascinating to watch the continued war of words between Cruz and Paul over election strategies and foreign policy. I will also be curious to see whether the Libertarian lean that CPAC had is indicative of a national trend or simply due to bias at the event. Overall though, the moment from CPAC that will stick with me the longest is NRA President Wayne LaPierre taking the stage to Huey Lewis and The News’s The Power of Love.

As always, questions, comments, and concerns are welcome. Answers are guaranteed.


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