Viewpoint: Straw polls can be skewed

This past week, thousands of conservatives gathered from across the nation in National Harbor, MD for the Conservative Political Action Conference (w). People attend CPAC to network and listen to a variety of renowned conservative speakers. During the conference, attendees were encouraged to vote for their presidential preference in a straw poll. The poll included: Rand Paul, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal and Sarah Palin.

Winning for the third consecutive year was Rand Paul, with Scott Walker trailing only four points behind. Combined, Paul and Walker accounted for 47 percent of people’s first-choice candidates.

The famed straw poll results indicate Paul has maintained his popularity and Walker is growing in popularity as he jumped from fifth place last year to second place this year.

Although the straw poll is held in high regard across conservative networks, in CPAC’s 41 year history only three winners have gone on to become presidential nominees out of 20recorded poll results.

It is important to recognize that an overwhelming majority of CPAC attendees were students or young adults, a population that tends to lean more libertarian, thus a generation that gawks over Rand Paul. Nevertheless, this is a voter range with a historically low voter turnout.

Additionally, many students were able to come to CPAC because organizations provided package deals for tickets and lodging. Some organizations were better represented than others. For instance, Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) gave each member who registered with them an “I Stand With Rand” shirt, an indicator of how the members of that organization generally voted. Even Jeb Bush bused in a mass of supporters to rally for him during his speech.

The only people permitted to vote in the straw poll were registered attendees. It can be presumed that most people attending a political active conference are politically charged individuals who may not vote on the same criterion as the rest of the country.

Alas, the polls were not monitored. As voters waited in line for their chance to vote in one of the straw poll stations provided at the event, campaigners for various candidates approached voters for a last-chance opportunity to sway votes.

What do the straw poll results mean? Currently, Rand Paul and Scott Walker are extremely strong candidates, even forerunners, for a presidential nomination, but not necessarily the strongest candidates. To write off candidates who ranked low in the CPAC straw poll would be premature. Candidates, issues and the country’s status are all subject to change between now and 2016.

In this scenario, time is the only thing that will truly tell who will win a presidential nomination.

Rachael Oury is a sophomore economics and marketing major from Hartland, Wis. She is a guest columnist for the Lariat.