Ron Paul Rising

Evidence from national polls on Ron Paul's supporters


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.

New Hampshire

Once again, Ron Paul overwhelming took the youth vote, or under 40 vote, with 46 percent among 18-24 year olds and 35 percent among 30-39 year olds. Like Iowa, New Hampshire voters under 40 make up about a quarter of total voters.

Paul also won those making less than $30,000 a year, likely a product of his support among young people. Nevertheless, he enjoys diversified support among income groups, about 20-30 percent among each income group except those making over $200,000 a year or more; he only captured 12 percent of these voters. In contrast, Romney captured 52 percent of those making $200,000 a year or more.

Similar to Iowa, Paul clearly beat all other candidates among voters who had never voted in the GOP primary before, with 38 percent of new primary voters. Romney captured 43 percent of voters who had voted in the primary before.

Also similar to Iowa, Paul won the Independent vote (self-identified) with nearly a third. Romney won half the Republicans and Huntsman won 40 percent of the Democrats. Among Tea Party supporters in New Hampshire, Paul took second, garnering 22 percent of their vote. Interestingly, Paul also won among whose who have unfavorable opinions of John McCain.

Although Paul comfortably won the vote among those voters who say they are very liberal on social issues like abortion (39 percent), he still captured about 21 percent of the evangelical Christian vote, only 2 percentage points lower than Santorum. He also captured nearly 50 percent of those who say they do not identify with a religion.

Paul also handily won among those who say that the most important candidate quality is to be a true conservative (41 percent went for Paul) and among those who want the candidate to have a strong moral character (40 percent).


Two Reason-Rupe polls asked Americans about their vote choice for President. Compiling the time series questions from both polls into one dataset produces a dataset with 140 Americans who say they would vote for Ron Paul for president. From these data, analyses are run among Independents and Republicans, providing 102 Ron Paul supporters. This provides an approximate overview regarding the demographics of his nationwide support. Surely, a larger sample size would be ideal, and also it should be recognized that the demographic make-up of his support likely would change over time as more voters become aware of his issue positions and other GOP candidates drop out of the race. Nevertheless, this provides an approximate snapshot of Ron Paul supporters.

As Iowa and New Hampshire polls suggest, Ron Paul supporters are unhappy with the status quo, with 82 percent disapproving of President Obama's job performance and 90 percent disproving of Congress.

A little more than half of Paul's support comes from those who self identify as Tea Party supporters, a quarter who self-identify as non-leaning Independents, and another quarter who self-identify as Republicans. In contrast, 43 percent of Romney's support comes from self-identified Republicans.

Moreover, Paul garners diversified ideological support, with 41 percent coming from conservatives and 22 percent coming from self-identified libertarians, and 26 percent from moderates. (In fact, the most recent Reason-Rupe poll, which also asked about support for the Occupy Wall Street movement, found that 44 percent of Paul's supporters also support the Occupy Wall Street movement.)

Eighty four percent of his support comes from those who are generally fiscally conservative. But 50 percent of his support comes from those are generally socially liberal. In contrast, 72 percent of Romney's support comes from fiscal conservatives and only 37 percent from social liberals.

These data lend additional supporting evidence to the thesis that Paul is creating a new coalition, with far more Independents, disaffected voters, those who do not fit the traditional left-right political spectrum, and those who have previously not been involved with the political process.

Despite their lack of loyalty to the Republican Party and representation of non-Republican stalwarts, Paul supporters overwhelmingly believe that government is not the one-stop solution for America's problems. In fact 85 percent say "the less government the better" and 78 percent say individuals would be better able to handle today's problems within a free market with less government involvement. Somewhat ironically, leading GOP candidate Mitt Romney has a solid 30 percent of supporters who believe the government should be more involved and that we need a strong government to handle complex economic problems. So even though Paul is often perceived as out-of-line with the Republican Party, his supporters clearly represent the fiscally conservative base. Interestingly, Paul supporters are divided on social issues, with half saying the government should promote traditional values in society and the other half believing government should not promote a particular set of values. In contrast, 61 percent of Romney supporters believe the government should intervene to promote traditional values in society.

Sixty six percent of Paul support comes from those younger than 44, compared to 46 percent among Romney supporters. His support is slightly more male than female, (60 percent vs. 40 percent) which is often the case among Republican candidates. His support is fairly evenly distributed across income, although somewhat slightly higher among those making $75,000-$199,000 a year. His support is also fairly evenly distributed across educational groups.

Interestingly, he garners greater support among those employed full time in the private sector (who tend to be more fiscally conservative) and also self-employed individuals (also more fiscally conservative).


In sum, Iowa, New Hampshire, and aggregated Reason-Rupe poll data suggest Ron Paul captures the votes of young Americans under 40, independent non-partisans, strong fiscal conservatives, and those previously disengaged from the political process. Although many political pundits intransigently continue to perceive the political world as a dichotomy along a left-right political spectrum, Paul's success appears to be largely owed to the many Americans who do not fit neatly along a socially/economically liberal vs. socially/economically conservative spectrum. Instead, he attracts a diverse group, with many self-identifying as fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Despite Paul's fiscally conservative base of support, these voters are not Republican stalwarts and may defect if the party fails to meet their demands.  

Results Among Republican and Independent Respondents

OBAMA APPROVAL Mitt Romney Ron Paul Total
% % %
 Strongly Approve 5 6 8
 Somewhat Approve 18 9 16
 Somewhat Disapprove 18 24 16
 Strongly Disapprove 54 57 56
 DK 5 4 5
100 100 100
CONGRESS APPROVAL Mitt Romney Ron Paul Total
% % %
 Strongly Approve 1 1 2
 Somewhat Approve 12 6 11
 Somewhat Disapprove 26 14 23
 Strongly Disapprove 59 75 57
 DK 2 4 6
100 100 100
OBAMA VOTE Mitt Romney Ron Paul Total
% % %
 Definitely Vote For Him 7 5 10
 Consider Voting For Him 21 18 18
 Definitely Not Vote For Him 70 76 68
 DK 2 1 4
100 100 100
"Some people say the less government the better, others say that there are more things that government should be doing. Which comes closer to your own view?"
Mitt Romney Ron Paul Total
% % %
 Less Gov the Better 67 85 64
 More Gov Should Be Doing 30 14 30
 DK 3 2 6
100 100 100
"Some people say we need a strong government to handle today's complex economic problems, others say that people would be better able to handle today's problems within a free market with less government involvement. Which comes closer to your own view?"
Mitt Romney Ron Paul Total
% % %
 STRONG GOV 29 18 30
 FREE MARKET 65 78 64
 DK 6 4 7
100 100 100
"Some people think the government should promote traditional values in our society. Others think the government should not favor any particular set of values. Which comes closer to your own view?"
Mitt Romney Ron Paul Total
% % %
 DK 3 6 5
100 100 100
GENDER Mitt Romney Ron Paul Total
% % %
 MALE 51 60 54
 FEMALE 49 40 46
100 100 100
AGE GROUP Mitt Romney Ron Paul Total
% % %
 18-29 22 35 20
 30-44 24 31 28
 45-54 17 18 19
 55-64 19 11 18
 65+ 18 5 15
100 100 100
RACE Mitt Romney Ron Paul Total
% % %
 WHITE 78 82 75
 BLACK 2 3 4
 HISPANIC 15 6 15
 ASIAN 5 8 4
 OTHER 0 1 0
100 100 100
% % %
 < $25,000 14 10 12
 $25,000 to $49,999 15 22 21
 $50,000 to $74,999 22 16 19
 $75,000 to $99,999 14 16 14
 $100,000 to $199,999 18 21 14
 $200,000+ 7 4 5
 Refused 10 11 14
100 100 100
EDUCATION Mitt Romney Ron Paul Total
% % %
 <High School 1 1 3
 High School 14 22 20
 Some College 28 32 32
 College Grad 32 30 27
 Post Grad 19 13 12
 Refused 6 3 5
100 100 100
VOTER REGISTRATION Mitt Romney Ron Paul Total
% % %
 Yes 94 91 90
 No 3 8 7
 Refused 3 1 3
100 100 100
REGION Mitt Romney Ron Paul Total
% % %
 Northeast 22 16 16
 Midwest 18 19 21
 South 30 38 39
 West 30 27 23
100 100 100
% % %
 OWS 7 17 8
 Pure Independent 3 10 6
 OWS/TP 5 14 8
 Tea Party 47 38 45
 Republican 38 21 30
 DK 0 0 3
100 100 100
% % %
 Tea Party 52 52 53
 Pure Independent 5 25 12
 Republican 43 23 32
 DK 0 0 3
100 100 100
EMPLOYMENT STATUS Mitt Romney Ron Paul Total
% % %
 Employed FT PRIVATE 33 40 32
 Employed FT PUBLIC 7 6 8
 Employed PT PRIVATE 13 9 8
 Self-Employed 8 16 11
 Homemaker 6 6 6
 Retired 15 4 13
 Student 2 3 3
 Unemployed 2 8 8
 Refused 7 6 8
100 100 100
TEA PARTY SUPPORTER? Mitt Romney Ron Paul Total
% % %
 Not a Supporter 48 48 47
 Yes a Supporter 52 52 53
100 100 100
% % %
 Liberal 6 9 10
 Libertarian 31 41 28
 Conservative 41 43 43
 Communitarian 22 7 19
100 100 100
% % %
 Conservative 46 41 48
 Moderate 31 26 25
 Liberal 3 2 7
 Libertarian 7 22 6
 Progressive 8 4 6
 Other/DK 4 5 9
100 100 100
N 213 102 1,133

Find full Reason-Rupe Q4 2011 poll results, question wording, and methodology here.

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