The national political climate is certainly much different now than it was two years ago in the run-up to the 2008 Presidential primaries and election. One thing, however, has managed to stay eerily similar: whenever someone holds a meaningless poll about who they want to be the next Republican presidential nominee, Ron Paul always manages to perform exceedingly well. The results of last weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll proved no different, with Paul taking first place with 31 percent of the vote, with second place finisher Mitt Romney at 22 percent and Sarah Palin’s third place finish of just 7 percent.

Now, of course, as with every previous poll that produced a similar victory for the Texas libertarian, the pundits dismissed the results as meaningless. The most famous example being Sean Hannity’s repeated assertion that Ron Paul did not win a 2007 Republican presidential debate despite the fact 38 percent of Fox News viewers disagreed.

This time, however, the excuses are strikingly different. In the past, tech-savvy Ron Paul supporters were blamed for skewing the poll results from the comfort of their living rooms. And considering the average Mike Huckabee voter probably doesn’t even own a computer, that’s not too surprising. This time around it was those darned college students and young people that were to blame: 48 percent of participants were students and 54 percent were under the age of 25.

On one hand, the naysayers can correctly cite those numbers to show those choosing to participate in the voluntary straw poll don’t represent an accurate cross-section of GOP primary voters — much less the rest of the electorate — but rather was dramatically skewed towards the younger end of the spectrum. In the short run, this is good news for the war-mongering statists who desperately don’t want to see the Republican Party led by the likes of Paul.

On the other hand, this is a pretty clear sign that those people who are signing on as conservatives and Republicans aren’t really very conservative at all, at least not in any post-Barry Goldwater definition of the term. They’re in fact much more libertarian leaning than Michael Steele or Mitt Romney want to admit. Given the popularity of the Republican brand over the past couple of years, it might not be too far from the truth to claim that Ron Paul is the only person bringing new people to the Republican Party and to conservative events like CPAC.

And, after all, what does a straw poll measure; a candidate’s ability to get people to show up at an event to hear them speak and check the box on the ballot next to their name? It’s not like that has anything to do with campaigning or actually getting elected.

CPAC isn’t the only piece of evidence of the infiltration of young libertarians into the Republican Party. Not yet on many people’s radar is the fact that Ron Paul’s son, Rand (not named after Ayn), would almost certainly become the next junior senator from the state of Kentucky, if the primary and general election were held today. The evidence is a little bit closer to home, as well with “Federal Reserve Audit” not only appearing as an option, but currently receiving the most votes in Wisconsin 8th district Republican primary candidate Terri McCormick’s poll of issue importance. Ron Paul can be the only explanation, unless, of course, you think it was Mitt Romney that was inspiring the “End the Fed” chants at CPAC.

Economist John Maynard Keynes once famously quipped, “In the long-run we’re all dead.” What he neglected to mention was the important detail that some of us will be around for longer than others. In the coming battle for the control and direction of the Republican Party, I’m going to be putting my money on those under-25 Ron Paul supporters who showed up at CPAC.

Patrick McEwen ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in nuclear engineering and wrote in Ron Paul for President in 2008.