Texas Rep. Ron Paul is the most enigmatic figure in the Republican race for president.

COLUMBIA, SC - SEPTEMBER 05: GOP Presidential candidate and Texas Congressman Ron Paul makes opening remarks during the American Principles Project Palmetto Freedom Forum, September 5, 2011 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Stephen Morton/Getty Images)

There’s no disputing that Paul has a loyal and relatively large following. (Witness his near-win in the Ames Straw Poll last month.)

But, we’ve often wondered just how many Paul-ites are actually Republicans. New data from the Washington Post-ABC News poll suggests that it’s not all that many.

Overall, 25 percent of the American public views the Texas Congressman favorably while 27 percent see him in an unfavorable light. Of the 25 percent of people who regard Paul favorably, roughly two-thirds don’t identify themselves as Republicans.

Paul’s GOP problem is particularly pronounced among those who identify themselves as conservative Republicans. Among that subset, just 8 percent feel “strongly favorable” toward Paul as compared to 22 percent who felt the same way about Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Eighteen percent of conservative Republicans in the Post-ABC survey felt strongly favorable to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

The poll data provides empirical evidence for what is anecdotally clear to anyone who has spent time in and around the phenomenon that is Ron Paul (and, to a lesser extent, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.)

Paul is nominally a Republican but his support base comes from people who tend to view the world from a primarily libertarian point of view. (Paul was the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee in 1988; he won .04 percent of the overall national vote.)

These are not people who have traditionally been involved in party politics before and likely won’t be involved in any meaningful way after Ron (and Rand!) run their course on the national scene.

What that means is that Paul’s support is the most stable among the Republican candidates because it’s the least likely to be shared with any one else running. (Can you imagine someone deciding between say Paul and Romney? Or even between Paul and Perry?)

That Paul is a force unto himself can be a good thing but it’s also a major impediment to his ability to expand his support beyond those who are already with him. And, as the Post-ABC poll shows, not enough of Paul’s supporters are Republicans for him to make a major run at the party’s nomination.

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