Magazine article The American Conservative

Ron Paul's Secret Weapon

Magazine article The American Conservative

Ron Paul's Secret Weapon

Article excerpt

The Free State Project flexes its muscles in New Hampshire.

By mid-December Ron Paul was polling an average of 16 percent in New Hampshire, compared to 9.8 percent nationally. The Texas congressman had invested considerable campaign resources in the nation's first presidential primary contest, but there was an additional reason for his Granite State surge: the Free State Project (FSP), a movement of libertarian-oriented Americans who are migrating to New Hampshire to influence the political process.

FSP eschews the label "libertarian" for a bigger-tent appeal, but its political philosophy attracts advocates of a "nightwatchman state" or even no state at all. So far, about 800 people have relocated to New Hampshire as part of FSP. Around this time in 2007, that figure was closer to 350. A further 150 or so FSP activists lived in New Hampshire before the state was chosen as the movement's destination.

One of those who moved to the Granite State as part of FSP is Women for Ron Paul chairwoman Jenn Coffey, who was elected as a state representative in 2008- a difficult year for the GOP. Coffey is now in the leadership of the new Republican majority in the state house. (Disclosure: I volunteered for her campaign in 2008.) Her career is emblematic of the multiplier effect that FSP activists seem to be having.

In 2010, 12 Free Staters won office in the state house, which has 400 members, and a classical-liberal caucus in that legislative chamber - the Natural Rights Councilnow has about four dozen members. While Free Staters and their allies generally say they focus on state and local issues, many have also gotten involved in the Ron Paul campaign. (Others support Gary Johnson or Jon Huntsman.)

After the 2008 primary I tried to estimate the multiplier effect that Free Staters had on Ron Paul's support in New Hampshire. At the time I was on FSP's board of directors and had access to the member database with information on the towns where Free Staters lived. I ran a statistical analysis comparing Ron Paul's townlevel support with the number of Free Staters per capita in each town. What I found was that for every additional Free Stater in a town, Paul received on average two and a half more votes there. The result was statistically significant.

Free Staters, who were not unanimous behind Paul even in 2008, seem to be persuading some of their neighbors. The 2.5 to 1 ratio is almost certainly a lower-bound estimate of the total, state-level multiplier effect since many Free Staters involved in the Paul campaign also gave money or engaged in activism outside of their own towns.

In a separate analysis of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, I tried to figure out where Ron Paul's latent support was highest in 2008. His observed vote shares in caucuses and primaries around the nation bore a strong relationship to the characteristics of each contest: he did much better in caucuses, wherever turnout was lower, where there were fewer candidates, and after John McCain had wrapped up the nomination. These features played to Paul's appeal as an outsider and protest candidate with a diehard support base. The purpose of my analysis was to "net out" the influence of institutional factors and come up with a pure indicator of Ron Pauls support in each state.

I simulated what Ron Paul's support would have been if all states had the same rules, number of candidates, position in the calendar, and turnout. Under these conditions, Paul's share in New Hampshire in 2008 would have been his highest in the nation, about 11. …

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