CNN’s Political Ticker blog wonders if Ron Paul’s online support really means anything:
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?
I don’t think the offline polls are wrong. Instead, what we’re seeing is a kind of political “amplification effect” in which a small minority of activists are inflating the online presence of a candidate to make them look stronger than they actually are. I rather doubt that Rep. Paul really has much support, and his views are not representative of either the mainstream of the GOP or the mainstream of American politics. Instead, his popularity is based almost entirely on the ease of manipulating online “opinion polls” and spamming. While it’s an interesting strategy, it’s not particularly useful.
For one, this strategy doesn’t tend to do much other than annoy people. Spamming online polls tends to diminish the value of the currency — if an online poll starts consistently displaying results that are clearly out of line, it doesn’t mean that the online poll is right and conventional wisdom is wrong — in fact, it means quite the opposite. The same applies with spamming blog posts and other tactics — the last thing that a credible political candidate wants to do is annoy the very people that they need to impress. Paul’s online armies aren’t helping Paul at all, but marginalizing him as a candidate.
I would wager that the average online Paul supporter is supporting him simply because of his opposition to the war in Iraq — without knowing that on most issues, Paul is frequently to the right of the Republican Party mainstream. For instance, he’s advocated a jurisdiction-stripping law that would prevent the Supreme Court from making any ruling on abortion. His views are in the paleo-conservative Buchananite league, which includes his opposition to the war in Iraq. The support of Rep. Paul that is coming from “progressive” quarters is probably quite unaware of what the man really believes.
This amplification effect is the same sort of thing one sees with the “netroots” — by trying to manipulate online opinion, these political activists groups tend to engage in the sort of group polarization that doesn’t work well in the political quest to capture the vital center. American politics is all about convincing the unconvinced, not shoring up the base. These kinds of online political movements inevitably have little success simply because it isn’t enough to spam a few online polls — a politician has to have a true base of support. Faking it just isn’t enough.
Ron Paul may have attracted some following, but he’s not a viable candidate for the Presidency — and if his online followers knew more about the candidate than his position on Iraq and his pro-legalization stance on drugs, it’s likely they’d find that he’s not the man they think he is.