The CPAC straw poll captures headlines last week, because of its reputation for anointing the “conservative choice” for a presidential candidate. But beneath the headlines are other questions that reveal a continuing trend toward the Tea-Party’s fiscal conservatism as the most pressing issues facing the country today.
This year’s poll was won by Ron Paul for the second time in a row and many of the shifts in response might have been caused because many social conservative organizations chose to boycott this year’s CPAC due to the inclusion of GOProud.

Despite that this year’s poll had the greatest number of responses aver and the results still offer one of the best opportunities to sample the views of the younger generation in the Conservative movement - almost 50% of respondents to this year’s poll were age 18-25. 3,700 of the registrants filled out ballots to vote in the poll, expressing their opinions on subjects from their core beliefs to the effectiveness of Republicans in Congress. More of the respondents were interested individuals, accounting for a drop in the number of students.

The number of people who claimed that their core belief was promoting traditional values was the same 9% that it was in 2010 but the overwhelming majority claimed that the best description of their core belief was promoting individual liberty by reducing the scope of government in people’s lives. This description was chosen by 84% of people, compared to 80% in 2010. Similarly the top four issues that people chose as most or second-most important to them were reducing the size of the Federal government and government spending, lowering taxes, and stimulating the economy. Other issues such as gun rights, promoting traditional values and even the War in Iraq drew less than half the response of the 4th place economic choice.

In addition, three of these top choices saw gains, the only one which didn’t was reducing taxes, presumably in response to the recently passed extension of the Bush-era tax rates. When they were asked how best to reduce the size of government 82% chose to cut spending. As expected a paltry 1% of respondents said to raise taxes and the remainder thought a combination of policies would be necessary.  About half are confident in the Republicans’ ability to accomplish these goals, implying that our representatives in Congress still have a ways to go in proving themselves worthy of governance.

The war on terror was the issue which saw the biggest year-on-year drop, reduced from 18% of respondent’s first or second most important issue to only 11%. The fact that people are more focused on economic issues and the scope of government than on social issues means that, at least among CPAC poll respondents, the talk of Mitch Daniels’ truce may ring true. Unfortunately for Mr. Daniels, he tied with Tim Pawlenty in the presidential poll, being the first or second choice for only 9% of respondents.

The poll also contained some good news for the dark horse candidates. Even though Ron Paul won the poll, 43% of respondents said that they wished the republicans had a better field of candidates. Those who are just beginning their run and polled poorly can take heart that the problem might just be getting their message out. As candidates begin announcing their intentions over the next few months the contest should get even more interesting.

While the CPAC poll is just an interesting note, candidates should be aware that economic issues are still at the forefront of most people’s minds. Given the up-and-down rollercoaster of recent unemployment numbers that’s likely to remain the case for several months to come.