Ron Paul supporters are certainly their own breed.
Despite the candidate’s success in expanding his political brand in recent weeks and months, those who support him remain a very distinct segment of the Republican electorate, as evidenced by a new poll in Iowa.
The Iowa State University/Gazette/KCRG survey is the latest poll to show Paul leading in the Hawkeye State’s caucuses. His 27.5 percent-to-25.3 percent lead on Newt Gingrich is within the margin of error, but it reflects a race that appears to be headed in the good doctor’s direction.
A deeper dive into that poll and a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows just where that support is coming from, and it’s a far different place than those for any of his fellow GOP contenders.
Paul’s supporters are disproportionately young, independent, non-interventionist, non-Christian and perhaps most telling, dedicated.
Here’s the breakdown:
* In the Iowa poll, Paul gets more than 50 percent support from the two youngest age groups — 18-29 year olds and 30-44 year olds — but gets less than 12 percent of 45-64 year olds and those 65 and older. In the Post poll, he gets 20 percent among 18-49 year olds, but just 8 percent among those 50 and older. That’s a remarkable age gap.
* The Post poll shows Paul winning 16 percent of independents and only 11 percent of Republicans.
* While we wrote this morning about how nearly half of respondents in the Post poll saw Paul’s non-interventionist foreign policy as a major reason to oppose him, another 29 percent said it was a major reason to support him. For those voters, Paul is really their only choice in the GOP primary.
* The Iowa poll shows Paul gets the support of 27 percent of born-again Christians — pretty much in-line with his overall vote total — but he also gets 74 percent of those who identify themselves as “secular.” The Post poll (which asks the question a different way) shows him getting slightly more support from voters who don’t describe themselves as white evangelical protestants.
So what do the young, the independents, the non-interventionists and the non-Christians have in common?
They are all pretty small minorities in the Republican Party.
To be fair, the sample sizes on all of these measures are pretty small and shouldn’t be seen as totally accurate reflections of reality. But the numbers certainly paint the picture of a man who has a very defined political constituency focused on small sub-groups of the GOP.
He’s done plenty to improve his stock, including bringing in more self-identified Republicans to go along with the independents who support him, but his unorthodox base of support remains very much intact and still defines his campaign.
That also means, though, that he leaves himself less room to grow, because as he maxes out among those small, key demographic groups, he’s not able to appeal to others. This appears to be what’s happening in Iowa, and while it might be good enough in a six-candidate field there, it will be tougher to execute it as a successful strategy as the race shrinks.
And none of his base groups will turn out in as big numbers as old people, Republicans (independents can’t even cast ballots in some states), Christians and foreign policy hawks.
At the same time, among the people that Paul does have behind him, he really has them behind him. The Iowa poll shows half of Paul’s supporters say they are definitely voting for him, while only 16 percent of Romney supporters and 15 percent of Gingrich backers say they are that certain.
But once you get past those determined voters, the universe of potential Paul supporters is relatively small.
Perhaps that’s why the new Iowa poll shows him with the least room to grow; he’s the second choice of just 7.7 percent of Iowa voters — the least among the six candidates that are actively campaigning in the state.