Ron Paul — Polls, Prognostications, ‘pinions & Prediction Markets
A lot of verbal arrows have been loosed around here about the candidacy of Ron Paul. Some people think he’s the greatest thing since
sliced bread Patrick Henry. Others worry he’s not “libertarian enough”, or point out his anti-immigration stances as if that may be a reason to disqualify him from receiving our votes.
In fact, Ron Paul has become a bit of an blogosphere superhero, winning straw polls and igniting excitement that far outstrips even what Howard Dean had. While Dean was a firebrand who could change the pulse of a crowd, he didn’t have a quarter of the experience in government or the intellectual and ideological heft that Ron Paul carries.
But the question is, does Ron Paul have a chance of getting the nomination? If he does, does he have a chance of beating the Democrat candidate he’ll be facing? And, as libertarians, what should we do to reconcile his anti-immigration policies with his normally consistent pro-freedom policies?
Well, the prognosticators have weighed in, and as usual, left a situation clear as mud. Some say Paul has a chance to be a dark horse candidate amongst the big heavies, and will only gain as their records and baggage weigh against their personalities and name recognition. Others say Paul might make for a good sideshow, bringing topics that big-government Republicans don’t want to address into the debates. He’ll drag the whole field back towards libertarian ideals; but those prognosticators don’t think he’ll manage to get the nomination. If he does manage to get the nomination, some folks think he’ll pull huge groups of Democrats over to him for his stances on the Iraq war (particularly if he’s against Hillary) and the War on (Some) Drugs. Others worry that his small-government policies scaring off those same Democrats, and that he may hemorrhage votes from Republicans with his policies on the Iraq War and the War on (Some) Drugs. That’s even leaving out the whole issue of age. In essence, the prognosticators can’t tell us whether he’ll win the nomination, and if he wins the nomination, whether he’d have a chance at winning the presidency. Considering that a guy like Giuliani polls well against the big Democrats, and is largely loved (despite his personal life) by Republicans, would it be smarter to like Ron Paul on a personal level but put our weight behind Giuliani or another politician who can win, and who will at least be better for liberty and low taxes than a President Obama, Clinton, or Edwards?
Personally, I say no. I’m going to support Ron Paul for as long as he’s in the field. I have my concerns about a few of his positions, but he is far and away better than any other Republican or Democrat currently under discussion. Most candidates will force us to hold our noses simply to keep from retching if we vote for them; Ron Paul’s odorous positions are like mild B.O. in comparison. If he’s running when the primaries come to my state, I’ll vote for Paul. If he manages to secure the nomination, I’ll vote for him in the general election. And I’m not doing so simply to vote for the “best” Republican over other Republicans, because I will likely vote Libertarian if Ron Paul is out of the race. I’d rather vote for Ron Paul, a 95% libertarian running as a Republican, than vote for a 100% Libertarian Party candidate who doesn’t have a chance of even being invited to the debates.
But, alas, reality must set in eventually. The polls currently have Ron Paul as a 1% candidate. He’s up against a behemoth in Giuliani, and the only “major” candidate I see him pulling support from would be Gingrich; if Gingrich doesn’t run or is marginalized early. Giuliani and McCain, who currently hold 65% of the poll votes, are not known for being small-government civil libertarians, so if one of them starts to really knock off the other, that candidate will take the nomination with ease.
Of course, polls are ridiculously inaccurate in a lot of cases. So I decided to check out Intrade, a prediction market. I tend to trust what people will put their money behind more than I would trust what they “say” they support. So if Paul was pulling 2-3% in the prediction market, a point or two ahead of his actual poll result, I would think that folks may be putting stock in the idea that he’ll do much better once his name recognition grows. However, Intrade has him at 0.2%, not even 1%. When someone is polling higher than the prediction market, one gets the impression that he might be a slight “fan favorite”, but that everyone knows he doesn’t have a shot. This is trailing Huckabee, Brownback, and Hagel. This even trails Condeleeza Rice by a point, who is almost a lock NOT to run.
The numbers may change, of course. It’s possible that Ron Paul’s internet success will catapult his name and his policies into the spotlight, and Americans will magically lose their tendency to worry more about what their neighbors are doing than what is happening in their own families. Should that happen, I’ll be one of the first cheerleaders. But I’m not confident enough to put my money where my mouth is.