The Myth of the Rogue Paulite
Ron Paul supporters are vilified almost as much as the man himself. In fact, polling data indicates that the following common characterizations are myths:
Any strong showing for Ron Paul in the Republican presidential primary polls must have an asterisk. Ron Paul supporters will not transfer their loyalty to any other GOP candidate should their man not get the nomination. They will either stay home, vote for Obama, or write in Ron Paul on the ballot. They are an heteroclite group, irregularly declined from political party nominatives, unpredictable in their apposition, and substantively anomalous. Paul's numbers versus other Republican candidates cannot be indicative of Republican support, because his supporters are not traditional Republican voters. Nor does he stand any chance of winning against Barack Obama because many traditional Republicans won't vote for him. Disregard Ron Paul and his Paulistines.
This is the myth.
Pundits, pollsters, and party monarchs insist that this is the case, and many other entrenched Republican Party general members urge their fellows against this "lunatic" or "kook" (or "racist" or "bigot") as zealously as Paul's supporters proselytize for him. But is there any widespread basis for this, or is it a general induction derived from statistical outliers? A recent CBS News poll seems to refute Ron Paul's inevitable defeat versus Barack Obama. But it also demonstrates something more about the vast majority of his supporters, should he receive the nomination: they are not as cultish as they have been portrayed.
Ron Paul statistically tied Barack Obama nationally in a head-to-head hypothetical matchup. He and Mitt Romney were the only candidates to do so -- all others were outside the negative margin of error.
But where does his support come from?
Whereas Mitt Romney received 90% support from Republican voters in his own matchup against Obama, Ron Paul received only 81% -- ahead of only Jon Huntsman, and tied with Newt Gingrich. Paul and Romney both gained 10% of Democrat voter support, but Ron Paul led the field among independent voters, with 47% support.
Table 1 - Source: CBS News Poll, Jan 9, 2011
So perhaps this is where his kooky supporters are hiding -- in the "Independent" category.
But the average support given to a Republican candidate by independents in this poll was 41.67% with a standard deviation of 3.56%. This gives Ron Paul a positive z-score of 1.5 among independents, hardly indicative of any major kookage. (Mitt Romney received 45% support from independents -- z-score of 0.76 -- so perhaps one can generously say that Paul has roughly double the supporters who stray from the norm -- i.e., "kooks" -- than does Romney.)
But I understand that not all independents are created equal, and that some are more normal than others. Presumably one could argue that more "normal" independents would vote for Romney and more "crazy" independents would vote for Ron Paul. This might be true, but not to the extent that anti-Paulites believe.
Among independent voters, Paul has the most participation. Only 2% of independents say they would not vote if he were the nominee, while 4% say they wouldn't if Romney were the nominee. Indeed, the average percentage of independent voters who said they would not vote is 4% in all Republican/Obama matchups. So 2% of those total independents are die-hard Paul-or-nothing kooks. But even if we take them away, Paul still receives the same amount of independent support as Romney (45%).
But what about a write-in for Ron Paul on Election Day? True, among independents, Paul was the only candidate whose respondents did not answer "other" in a Republican v. Obama matchup (besides Jon Huntsman, which can be attributed more to a lack of name recognition than zealous support). But in Romney's, Gingrich's, Perry's, and Santorum's matchups, only 1% said they would vote for someone besides the Republican candidate or Obama. Even if we are extremely generous toward the myth and ascribe all of these "others" to Ron Paul -- and not, say, Ralph Nader or Buddy Roemer -- the rogues are fewer and farther between than we have been led to believe by opponents of Ron Paul.
On the other hand, double the Republicans said they would not vote at all if Paul were the nominee compared to any other matchup. While 5% of Republicans said they would stay home with Paul at the head of the Republican ticket, the average was only 2.5%. Similarly, 9% of Republicans said they would vote for Obama versus Ron Paul, while only 5% would cast for Obama versus Mitt Romney.
So, while there can be as many as 3% of independent Ron Paul supporters who insist on their candidate or no one, there are more than quadruple that number of Republicans (14%) who insist on refusing to support Ron Paul. If Dr. Paul received equal the support of Mitt Romney among Republicans, he would actually poll a half-percentage point higher than Romney in a matchup vs. Obama.
Table 2 - Source: CBS News Poll, Jan 9, 2011
Romney beats Paul in total Republican support: Romney supporters cannot find Ron Paul kooks in this demographic without admitting that they actually have more.
Romney and Paul are tied among Democrats: there can be no more Ron Paul kooks here than Mitt Romney kooks.
Paul beats Romney among independents: but only by 2%. Even if these are the kooks, they constitute only 0.74% of the total number of voters -- truly within the realm of being a statistical outlier rather than anything normative.
Even if we double the maximum number of Ron Paul kooks among independents by throwing in some Republican and Democrat Paulites for good measure, the number of Republicans alone who would refuse to give Dr. Paul their support would still be 133% greater.
So which bloc is truly being more stubborn? And should the footnote for the asterisk read, "Indicative of rogue libertarians -- actual results should be lower," or "Indicative of Republican obstinacy -- actual results should be higher"?