The winner of the presidential straw poll (pdf) at this week’s American Conservative Union’s CPAC Conference wants to bring our troops home, legalize hemp, and end the “war on drugs.” He’d be OK with non-“disruptive” openly-gay service members, he thinks banks shouldn’t be “too big to fail,” he voted against the Patriot Act, and he thinks the separation of church and state is a dandy idea.
To the loud displeasure of attendees, most of whom didn’t bother to vote, his legendarily enthusiastic supporters managed to pull off a win for self-styled libertarian Ron Paul.
Paul, who got 31% of the vote, far ahead of perennial candidate-in-waiting (and winner of the last three year’s polls) Mitt Romney at 22%. Non-attendee Sarah Palin’s was distant third at 7%. The remainder of the vote went to Tim Pawlenty (6%), Mike Pence (5%), Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee (4%), Mitch Daniels, Rick Santorum, and John Thune (2%), and Haley Barbour (1%). “Other”(5%) and “Undecided” (6%) came in ahead of most of the field.
Out of the roughly 10,000 people present at the conference, 2,395 voted. More than half of those were 18-25, which is most likely where the bulk of Paul’s support came from. Paul’s young supporters made a byword of themselves during the last presidential election for their fervent style of political engagement, which didn’t make them particularly popular with more traditional conservatives (their nickname among online conservatives was – well, let’s just say Sarah Palin wouldn’t be all that happy about it). A poll packed disproportionately with Paul supporters is not a particularly good bellwether of conservative thought, let alone broader electoral politics.
The other striking thing about the poll is how dispirited the activists are right now. Only 33% think they’re going to take back the House, a commanding 53% wants better presidential candidates than the ones they have, and people who don’t think well of RNC Chair Michael Steele’s outnumber his fans 44%-42%.