Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) won the straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) for the second year in a row with 31 percent of the vote.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) came in second with 11 percent support, neurosurgeon Ben Carson got 9 percent, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who spoke at the conference on its opening day, had 8 percent.
Tying with 7 percent each were Gov. Scott Walker and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). Walker did not attend the conference but his name was often invoked by speakers. Santorum seemed to be laying the groundwork for another run by accusing Republicans of capitulating on family values.
With 25 candidates on the list and a “slew” of write-ins — including for Calvin Coolidge — Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) got 6 percent support.
“I am grateful to all the attendees who stood with me. The fight for liberty continues, and we must continue to stand up and say: We’re free and no one, no matter how well-intentioned, will take our freedoms from us,” Paul said in a statement released by his PAC after the vote. “Together we will stand up for the Constitution. Together we will fight for what is right. Thank you and onwards to victory.”
President Obama got a 98 percent disapproval rating, while Republicans in Congress got a 51 percent disapproval rating.
Seventy-eight percent of respondents said their ideology was driven by promoting “individual freedom by reducing the size and scope of government and its intrusion into the lives of its citizens.” Just 12 percent picked opposition of gay marriage and abortion as the most important issue while seven percent chose national security.
CPACers were also asked how they felt about NSA collection of telephone metadata — 78 percent disapproved — and marijuana legalization, which was favored for both recreational and medical use by 41 percent.
Slightly more ballots were cast this year than last, with 2,459 votes cast. Forty-six percent of voters were from ages 18-25, and 42 percent of the voters were students. Sixty-three percent were male.
The Senate Conservatives Fund simultaneously released its own straw poll, saying in a release that it drew more than 41,000 votes online from its members “who could not attend” CPAC.
Cruz got 42 percent, Paul came in a distant second with 17 percent, and Walker got 10 percent.
“The results of the SCF presidential straw poll are unique because they reflect the views of a large group of conservatives across the country,” said SCF Executive Director Matt Hoskins. “Our poll shows that Ted Cruz is currently the conservative favorite for president in 2016.”
The SCF was founded by former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), now president of the Heritage Foundation. The PAC has been going after Senate incumbents, particularly Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.).
Rubio, who was supported by the SCF in his 2010 Senate run, got just 2.5 percent. Santorum got less than 1 percent.