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Why Straw Polls Are Not News

Those hungry for news about the 2012 Republican nomination race may be interested in the outcome of the straw poll held this past week at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. But they shouldn’t be. Straw polls are merely the measure of how much candidates want to spend to get people to show up to vote for them. They tell us nothing about the actual appeal of the contenders to real voters or even real GOP activists.

The evidence for this was in the identity of the first and second place winners at the RLC poll: Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman. Paul has a dedicated cadre of libertarians who are willing to pay to attend events and vote in large numbers even if their extremist views as well as those of their candidate are not representative of most Republicans. Huntsman’s second place finish astonished some observers, since it is well known that while the former Utah governor has a lot of support on the editorial boards of the Washington Post and the New York Times, he has virtually no support among grass roots Republicans who usually attend events like the RLC. But it’s really not surprising. As Jonathan Martin reported in Politico, Huntsman paid people to show up and vote for him, something he won’t be able to get away with once the voting starts for real.