What to make of CPAC straw poll?

With Brett Neely:

(Washington) — Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-MN, drew even support in the presidential straw poll of conservative activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, in Washington over the weekend. But both were far behind front-runners Rep. Ron Paul, R-TX, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who drew 30 and 23 percent of the vote respectively.

The Minnesotans each received just 4 percent of the vote. Some view the straw poll results as something of a bellwether for how much support a candidate draws from conservative grassroots activists.

“It’s a straw poll, not a scientific poll so it gives some evidence of where activists are on these questions,” said David Keene the Chairman of the American Conservative Union, the organization that puts on CPAC, in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio.

But Keene cautioned not to read too much into the poll results.

“It does have a degree of accuracy in terms of both the feeling at the time on the part of conservative activists and, just as importantly, the openness of the conservative community to candidates,” said Keene.

Washington University Political Science Professor Steve Smith called the poll a popularity contest and probably not a good measure of fitness for the presidency. Still Smith said it’s a contest potential presidential candidates want look good in.

Even though Pawlenty has been positioning himself for a presidential campaign for a lot longer than Bachmann, Smith says the outspoken congresswoman poses a tactical problem to Pawlenty’s effort to attract attention.

“She’s on some counts a mile behind. She’s not nearly as well organized as Pawlenty is for the effort,” said Smith. “On the other hand, she has a lot more money in her bank account and a greater capacity to raise money and attract attention than does Pawlenty. And there are going to be quite a few folks who are thinking we only need one candidate from Minnesota.”

Some CPAC attendees think there’s less of a gap between the two candidates.

“I think they are both equally viable,” Said Diana Banister of Falls Church, Virginia. “I think that [Bachmann] has potential because she’s been on television, because people know her especially with the tea party movement. I think people could follow her.”

Another Midwesterner drew the attention Brian Hamel of Watertown, Connecticut. His straw poll vote went to Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels who, like Pawlenty, has not said whether he will run for the GOP nomination.

Hamel said he thinks many people who like Daniels would gravitate toward Pawlenty if Daniels does not get into the race and Pawlenty does. Hamel thinks Pawlenty has a stronger organization and would be a more viable candidate than Bachmann, even though Bachmann is a crowd pleasing speaker and a successful fundraiser.

“I think a lot of the things she says maybe aren’t comfortable for the entire country. Certainly the conservative tea party base is comfortable with it, but in terms of winning the election, I don’t know that she’s the best candidate to represent America,” said Hamel.

Another candidate who energizes the tea party base is Ron Paul. Sam Swedberg, a 22 year old college student who attends St Cloud State University, was at this year’s and last year’s CPAC to support Ron Paul.

“There’s a strong movement here for Ron Paul, it was like that last year. It’s more about principle. They’re tired of the talking points. They want someone that actually follows through. I think that’s why Ron got more support again this year, like he did last year,” Swedberg said.

When asked about Pawlenty, Swedberg had little to say.

“I don’t think so, not as it stands right now. I mean he’s kind of coming out of nowhere. For us in Minnesota, we all know who Tim Pawlenty is, you know, Mr. T-Paw, but when I talk to people about Tim Pawlenty, I don’t think people really know who he is.”

As for Bachmann, Swedberg said she has more of a crowd behind her than Pawlenty but he doesn’t think Bachmann is viable because she’s such a polarizing figure.

  • “What to make of the CPAC Straw Poll”.

    Make of it this; it it were a real indicator, Ron Paul would have been the nominee in 2008.

    The CPAC Straw Poll is like the Humphrey Institute Poll – wildly inaccurate – without the phony gravitas.

  • Nickelodeon


    I’m not sure I understand your point. In 2008 CPAC’s straw poll had Mitt Romney @ 35%(who won) and John McCain @34%…..with everyone else far behind….

    With all the fanboy stuff over McCain that year it seems pretty accurate to me as he won the nomination.

    If you go back to 2007 Romney won again with 24% and Mccain in 3rd(not attending) at 12% with the rest far behind….

    It really doesn’t seem so far off to me…if anything it might show that Romney while popular doesn’t finish strongly in the end(probably for the same reasons as he is still too far left in certain areas).

  • Barbara Barnett

    Straw Poll doesn’t really matter in the end–Fox News will determine the final Republican nominee and probably the winner with their (mis)information. Most widely viewed by the Majority who do not truly educate themselves about all sides of the issues, Fox News rules by fear and proves that lying works. Nothing new.

  • Bill Gleason

    Mr. Berg appears confused. The CPAC poll was a straw vote of attendees about their choices for the nomination. It is not inaccurate, it is what they voted.

    The Humphrey Poll, although inaccurate, was attempting to predict election results.

    Facts are important.

  • Rev G. Trask

    Folks, this really means little, since most of the propeller-heads who cut classes to come to CPAC won’t be voting in next year’s evangelical-driven Iowa caucusses. Nor will they be in SC, also evangelical-heavy. These are friendly environments for 2 people who skipped CPAC: Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee. These are places that whomever becomes the GOP nominee MUST carry. The good news for Pawlenty and Bachmann is that they play well amonst the oogedy-boogedy crowds in those states.


  • James

    I am a math-physics student at a large state university. The overwhelming majority of my professors are libertarian Ron Paul supporters. Of coarse, the general population is not math-physics professors, and is, in fact, quite stupid, and so will do whatever the television tells them, i.e., vote Obama or McCain.

    Trust those who are more intelligent and informed than you – trust Ron Paul!

    And the other comment by Barbara Barrett is right. Watch, for instance, the coverage by Fox of the South Carolina 2008 republican debate. Shocking stuff!!! Search for it on youTube.

  • Ben

    I am a physics dude, actually electromagnetics, and I support Ron Paul. You are correct about intelligent folks supporting the man. His supporters are versed on all sorts of stuff. Some are a bit wacky but most are good people that love this country and are worried about its probable insolvency.

  • Clay Forester

    I don’t see Ron Paul’s path to a GOP nomination. Without winning over the oogedy-boogedy crowds in Iowa and SC, Paul is destined to finish no higher than 2nd place. Wiping out the Fed is of no interest to that crowd. Romney nearly outspent Huckabee 20-1 in Iowa in 2008, yet Preacher Huckabee won there.