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Straw polls and the hunger for validation

In response to Straw Polls Are A Farce:

I completely agree, David, but I’m afraid straw polls are here to stay.  For one thing, there’s an endless supply of young people and political newcomers who can still be impressed by them.  I was in the CPAC media center when the straw poll results came in, and found myself in the company of an earnest, very bright young blogger who seemed under the genuine impression that there was some suspense surrounding the winner.  It was like watching a Harlem Globetrotters game with someone who thinks the Washington Generals might just eke out a win this time.

Sometimes the lower-tier results in these polls can be mildly interesting, once you get past the top spots, where victory is engineered by determined teams of stalwart partisans and campaign operatives.  I thought it was somewhat interesting that Ben Carson managed a third-place finish at CPAC, for example… but then again, there was a ready-to-rumble “Run, Ben, Run” squad in the audience during his speech, wasn’t there?

The intensity of devotees is forever exaggerating the wider appeal of some candidates, but we seem locked in a cycle of straw polls getting briefly taken seriously as news, until the chorus of objections from people with long memories tamps down enthusiasm, and the news cycle rolls along.  The news cycle is one of the reasons for all sorts of dubious polling.  There is no more concentrated form of shake-and-bake “news” content available to media of any stripe.  Run a poll, write a headline, pick out a couple of juicy internals, and boom, you’ve got news.

These polls also feed the hunger for validation.  The people at any big conference want to feel important.  Straw polls instantly turn them into newsmakers.  Devotees of a winning candidate want the quick hit of excitement that comes from a towering straw-poll victory, even though it strains credulity to suppose that very many Rand Paul supporters are truly unaware of his father’s long history of winning the dickens out of straw polls, and not much else.  

I think Rand is likely to do much better in a presidential run than Ron ever did, and there is generally acclimation that he’s more skilled at “retail politics,” but made me a bit nostalgic to see Rand’s staff passing around printed victory statements ten seconds after the CPAC straw poll results were announced. 

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