Politics

02.16.12

Ron Paul's Stealth Campaign

It's a worthwhile question to ask, whether Ron Paul, the firebrand libertarian candidate, is still running for his party's nomination. On paper, he certainly is, gearing up toward more state primaries and Super Tuesday next month. But he's lately gained virtually no media attention—nor appeared to want much. His fundraising has lagged, as well. And he's now locked in a bitter battle over Maine's paltry 24 delegates. Yet still, he retains extremely high favorability online, higher than any other candidate.

So what gives? According to the Election Oracle, Paul has played online with remarkable consistency, staying entirely in positive territory and avoiding the volatile shifts and dips of his opponents. One reason is obvious: The 20- and 30-somethings who ardently support the free-market platform of the aging candidate are heavy web users who gush about him on political blogs, in news comments and on Twitter. But less clear is how for weeks, Paul, despite his controversial and provocative ideas to massively reign in the size of government, has escaped any online controversy or sustained attack.

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To determine its favorability ratings, the Election Oracle tracks 40,000 news sites, blogs, message boards, Twitter feeds, and other social-media sources to analyze what millions of people are saying about the candidates—and determines whether the web buzz is positive or negative. That rating is weighted, along with the Real Clear Politics polling average and the latest InTrade market data, to calculate each candidate’s chances of winning the Republican nomination. (See methodology here.)

The downside of Paul's web popularity is that it isn't quite a representative sample. The positive web rating comes from his enthusiastic fans, but few others are talking about him. That means that instead of being universally celebrated, Paul has been sidelined by his party's more boisterous noisemakers.

That, however, might be all part of Paul's plan. Having let it slip that he doesn't share his opponents’ daydreams about one day occupying the White House, Paul's campaign has always been one of ideas, not momentum. Recognizing the statistical long shot of winning the presidency, Paul has instead tried to change the debate. Online, at least, he certainly has.

Email the Election Oracle at Oracle@newsweekdailybeast.com, or find us on Twitter at @ElectionOracle.