On Tuesday, Ron Paul shocked the nation with a strong second place finish in the New Hampshire primary.
Amidst the ephemeral rise and fall of most of the GOP field (Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum) Ron Paul has found a steady and consistent rise in the polls. In effect, the once-considered-fringe candidate has vaulted into the GOP top tier.
Data collected from Real Clear Politics demonstrates Paul’s steady rise in the polls from 2009 through 2011. By December 2011 there is a steep increase in support for Paul, likely as Iowa caucus polls showed him coming in first. Although Paul was a few percentage points shy of winning the Iowa caucus on Jan 2, Americans have begun to view Paul as an electable candidate.
Who Are Ron Paul Supporters?
A natural question is to ask who are Ron Paul’s supporters and what distinguishes them from other voters. Entrance/Exit poll data from the Iowa Caucuses, the New Hampshire primary, and data from two Reason-Rupe Polls help illuminate common characteristics of Paul supporters.
Ron Paul overwhelming won the youth vote, and by youth I mean he received more votes from Iowa voters 40 years and younger than any other candidate. Fifty percent of 17-24 year olds, 45 percent of 25-29 year olds, and 34 percent of 30-39 year olds. (More on the youth vote here.) Problematically for the Paul campaign, voters under 40 years old made up only 25 percent of the Iowa vote, while voters 65 and older made up another 26 percent of the vote, and the plurality of those older voters went to Romney at 33 percent, Santorum at 20 percent, Gingrich at 17 percent, and to Paul at 11 percent.
Paul tied with Romney and Santorum for 25 percent each of college graduates, and Paul’s support is fairly evenly distributed among all educational levels. Paul won the vote among those making less than $50,000 a year, likely a product of his popularity among younger Americans.
Paul also tied with Romney for winning the urban vote, more than a quarter each respectively. Romney then largely won the suburban vote, and Santorum won the rural vote.
Paul won the vote among those who have never before attended a GOP caucus, in fact, a third of these new attendees cast their votes for Paul. In contrast, nearly a third of those who have previously attended the GOP caucuses voted for Romney.
Paul won the Independent vote by a wide margin, with 43 percent of Independents voting for Paul. Twenty nine percent and 27 percent of Republicans voted for Santorum and Romney, respectively, compared to 14 percent for Paul. Paul also won the moderate vote with 40 percent and Romney closely followed with 35 percent.
Despite assertions that Paul is the father of the modern day Tea Party movement, Tea Partiers in Iowa largely went for Santorum. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that Paul did not receive a significant share of Tea Party supporters: Roughly 20 percent of Tea Party supporters voted for Paul. This coincides with what my colleague David Kirby and I have found in our research of the Tea Party movement: There are both libertarian-leaning and socially conservative wings to the Tea Party.
Among those whose primary concern is the budget deficit, Paul won with 28 percent. Among those where abortion was the primary concern, Santorum won with 58 percent.
In terms of candidate qualities, Paul won among those who believe that the GOP candidate should be a true conservative with 37 percent. This is somewhat ironic, given that those who voted for Paul largely were Independents and moderates. This may suggest that those moderates and Independents don’t believe self-identified conservatives are really all that conservative.