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The Ron Paul phenomenon

CNN | June 9, 2007

It's been an exciting week for us at the Ticker – a few days ago, we opened up the comments section of our blog, and since then, we've received thousands of responses.

A large number of the ones we've posted so far have been from supporters of White House presidential hopeful Ron Paul, R-Texas.

But come Tuesday night's GOP debate, we were inundated with Paul comments on our ticker post: “Who won the GOP debate?”

Many of the comments we received were supportive of the Texas congressman, while others registered frustration that the flood of Paul posts impeded the general online discussion, likening them to spam.

One thing is for sure: Ron Paul supporters are effective at coordinating and mobilizing online quickly. For the three GOP debates so far, Paul has won or placed high in most of the unscientific online surveys including ABC's, MSNBC's, FOX's, and unscientific polls conducted on a number of blogs.

Paul virtually swept CNN's unscientific survey after Tuesday night's GOP debate: not only did participants say Paul won the debate, but also that he knew the most about the issues, had the best one-liner, had the most surprising performance, and got the biggest boost from the debate. (He wasn't considered the snappiest dresser, however – see Mitt Romney). The topic is getting some play on conservative blogs, too.

These informal polls are unscientific because supporters can often vote more than once, and are not randomly selected, and while they may be useful indicator of a candidate's ability to organize online, they are not generally an accurate measure of support across the electorate.

The comments section is intended to be informal, of course, but the strain on resources that night prompted us to take down the “Who won the GOP debate” question (though that didn't stop Paul supporters from commenting; they started adding comments to the “Who won the Democratic debate?” post). The intention was not to censor Ron Paul supporters — right now, you'll find hundreds of Paul posts on the site.

Given the volume of submissions, we do not post every comment. That said, we will always try to post as many as possible. We know how frustrating it can be to write something thoughtful and never see it published.

Right now “Ron Paul” is among the top-searched terms on Technorati, the popular site that tracks blog posts. According to the community Web site, Eventful, there are more than 16,000 outstanding “demands” for Paul to appear in cities across the country – that's up 11,000 from just one week ago, leapfrogging him over Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York. Ron Paul video clips get plenty of play on YouTube and there is no shortage of blogs devoted to his support.

What do these numbers mean? How do you reconcile that support with the national poll numbers? In virtually every scientific national poll — generally regarded as the best measurement of public support for a political candidate — Paul registers, at most, between 1 and 2 percent. Do the debate numbers reflect something different than the national polls? Is it too early to tell?

Paul opposes abortion rights, voted to authorize a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexican border, supports withdrawing troops from Iraq, and defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Is he a “true conservative”? If indeed his support is growing, what is it going to take for Paul to break out and challenge the front-runners for the GOP presidential nomination?

 

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