Not really. Or, even less than it usually means to win an unscientific poll of an incredibly small and relatively unrepresentative group of people. Yes, Mike Huckabee won the Values Voters Summit straw poll this weekend with 28% of the vote. But then again, he’s been the frontrunner for Preferred Candidate of Religious Conservatives in 2012 since the moment the last election ended.
The strong performance of the former Arkansas governor–and, more relevant for this group, Baptist pastor–in the 2008 GOP primaries convinced many religious conservatives that Huckabee could be a real contender if given sufficient backing and resources. And no one else in the GOP orbit right now who comes close to winning their hearts and votes.Take the also-rans in the straw poll. Four other Republicans essentially shared second place with about 12% of the vote each: Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Sarah Palin, and Mike Pence. Of the four, Palin should have been the most likely to challenge Huckabee’s popularity with the religious crowd. But canceling appearances to speak to them–this was the third such time she’s backed out of a major social conservative event–isn’t endearing her to those voters. As for Romney, he’s still a Mormon, which continues to limit the support he can attract from some evangelicals. And while both Pawlenty and Pence could someday become bigger stars, their vote totals in the straw poll seemed to be a function of showing up at the Summit.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the straw poll is how few people participated. This is only the second time that the Values Voters Summit has held a straw poll (the first was in 2007), and we are still three years away from the next presidential election. Even so, the 597 votes cast represent only one-third of the total attendees at the gathering, and about one-tenth the number of votes in 2007. Many of those 2007 votes came from online donors, who were allowed to participate in the poll in addition to conference attendees who voted in-person; this year, voting was limited to attendees. But the number of people who voted in-person for Huckabee in 2007 is still greater than the total number of those who participated in this year’s straw poll.
The upshot? Mike Huckabee is still the early favorite of religious conservatives if he runs in 2012, but not because 170 people put his name in a box at a straw poll.