a contemplative approach to politics

Why is Ron Paul Winning in Iowa?

Posted by blindspotpolitics on December 24, 2011

It’s easy to use a poll to support ones political argument. Simply give an argument, find some numbers that support it, and wahlah! Your argument is now seemingly valid, defensible, and equitable. And sometimes it is. Indeed, polls are collections of statistics based on human responses. But where do these statistics come from? What do they actually mean? Herein lies the problem with blindly trusting polls.

The polls concerning Dr. Ron Paul’s recent lead in the Iowa Caucus are no exception. For the past few days, polls across the nation and the state have emphatically claimed “Paul leads.” In the Iowa State University/Iowa Gazette/KCRG poll Paul is leading 27.5% to Gingrich’s 25.3% and Romeny’s 17.5%. (see the poll here) But what do these statistics mean? Each poll asks different kinds of questions, and asks different types of people. In this poll, the latter is of primary concern. This poll claims to have asked “likely Republican caucus-goers.” Besides the obvious question of, well how the heck does one determine that?!?, the poll does not include the views of Independents and Democrats who have registered Republican in the state to vote for Paul–the supposed source of much of Paul’s grass roots organization there.

A lot has been said in the mainstream media over the importance of these polling numbers, some Republicans even claiming that if Paul wins in Iowa it undermines the whole “first in the nation” Caucus system because, according to many pundits and leaders, Ron Paul is not representative of the Republican Party across the nation. And how could he be? He has a lot of ideas and he is very heavy on policy rather than discussing politics. In fact, he makes light of discussing anything other than policy, as shown in this video.

What separates Paul from the other Republican candidates is precisely his refusal to pander to the mainstream Republican base. Paul, who ran as the Libertarian Presidential nominee in 1988, holds some pretty unique views, particularly in contrast to a Republican party ruled by the Neocons on foreign policy and the Religious Right on social policy. His most idiosyncratic views are probably the legalization of all drugs, including heroin, and ending all foreign aid, even from Israel. For a good outline of Paul’s stranger views see Politico’s “Ron Paul 2012: Six comments he needs to explain.”

Beyond the explanation of polling numbers and Paul’s contrast to mainstream Republican views remains the question Why is Ron Paul winning in Iowa? The simple answer: time. The reason he is winning Iowa is because he has had the time to explain his complex policy positions to the people there. It takes time to properly explain complex and new, if not revolutionary, political ideas. It takes even more time for voters to absorb that information, ruminate, and reach a decision.

Paul has good ideas, plain and simple. His fiscal views attractive true fiscal conservatives who have been disillusioned by the spending supported by Republicans since Bush Jr. took office, while his social opinions attract Green Party members and even Democratic Socialists who have been disillusioned by the lack of social change that Obama has so far constructed. Even more broadly, he offers some pretty straight forward answers to complex questions, such as his persistent answer to the problems in the middle east: “we marched in and we can march out.” To those that don’t agree with all of his policy positions, the straightforwardness of his politics is still heavily appealing. There is a peculiarly earnest nature to the way he describes politics that is refreshing and even comforting. Although, as I’ve admitted, some of his ideas are off-base from normal political views and perhaps even wacky, he bases everything on political theory. For Paul, nothing is arbitrary. His ability to properly explain and justify his unique policy positions in Iowa has led to his surging poll numbers. As people get to know him better it seems that he becomes more appealing. However, the questions becomes, will Paul be able to properly translate his message to potential voters as the time between primaries and caucuses decreases or will his high numbers in Iowa, which may even be deflated because Independents and Democrats have generally not been involved in the polls, be his last?


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