Despite hopes and guesses about bad polling and great ground game, as discussed in posts by me earlier today, it looks like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has pulled off no particular surprise in tonight's Iowa caucus, coming in fifth with about 4.5 percent of the vote. (That is well above such folk as Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich, who all were included in a debate a few weeks ago Paul was booted from.)
Ron Paul got 21 percent in Iowa in 2012, in comparison. Although various Rand Paulites assured me that a total loss of the Ron base was a myth, it looks true on the macro level.
And on the micro? Let's look at the counties Ron Paul won in 2012.
There were 15 16 of them, most in the east or south of the state. Of the 14 for which results are in, Rand Paul even managed to hit the top 4 in only one, Jefferson County, home of Fairfield and Maharishi University of Management, a county Ron Paul won all the way back in 2008 as well.
Of the 15 16 Ron Paul counties, Donald Trump won nine of them tonight, and Sen. Ted Cruz won five. Ted Cruz won nine of them, and Donald Trump won seven. [My handcount on this last night was mistaken; headline also corrected]
What does this mean? It gives some weight to the conclusion of the anonymous Paul-watcher I quoted this morning who noted that for many voters in Iowa, Ron Paul was less the libertarian choice than the radical anti-establishment choice, and that that energy went to Trump. And that Cruz may have actually appealed to many would-be "constitutionalists" despite his stances on things like surveillance and war.
There has never been, as far as I've seen, any actual social science data about Ron Paul voters. By the nature of things, as a reporter in Iowa in 2012 I mostly got to meet and talk to the serious fans who showed up to rallies, who I found were very largely libertarian in outlook, even if they didn't identify with the term.
Rand Paul certainly failed to capture and build on whatever it was that attracted those to Ron Paul. The content of his speeches I saw and followed (via the Internet, was not on the ground there) felt libertarian in intent, mostly. If Iowa is any indication, though, that was not what a lot of voters wanted or needed to hear right now.
Now, the biggest thing often not accounted for in this sort of analysis is the potential voters who don't vote at all, so we have no way of knowing if it's the same voters who voted for Ron in 2012 not voting for Rand, or voting for Trump, this time. There was a 46 percent first-time caucusgoers turnout, so only 54 percent of caucusgoers today represented a past "Ron Paul vote" to win or lose.
The student angle, which was supposed to be Paul's salvation, paid off a tiny bit. For example, in Story County, home to Iowa State University, Paul did come in 4th with 8.7 percent; but Florida Sen. Marco Rubio crushed with a 32 percent win. In Johnson County, home to University of Iowa, Paul also came in 4th at 8.9 percent; again Rubio seemed to have more student appeal, with a 29 percent victory there.