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Conservative Political Action Conference

The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC; /ˈspæk/ SEE-pak) is an annual political conference attended by conservative activists and elected officials from across the United States. CPAC is hosted by the American Conservative Union (ACU).[citation needed] More than 100 other organizations contribute in various ways.

In 2011, ACU took CPAC on the road with its first Regional CPAC in Orlando, Florida. Since then ACU has hosted regional CPACs in Chicago, Denver, and St. Louis, and San Diego.


Number of CPAC attendees over time

The conference was founded in 1973 by the American Conservative Union and Young Americans for Freedom as a small gathering of dedicated conservatives.[1][2] Over the years it has grown to thousands of attendees annually. Roughly half of those in attendance in the past few years have been college-aged.[3][4][5]

Speakers have included Ronald Reagan,[6][7][8] George W. Bush,[9] Dick Cheney,[10] Pat Buchanan,[11] Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich,[9] Sarah Palin, Ron Paul,[12] Mitt Romney,[9] Tony Snow,[9] Glenn Beck,[13] Rush Limbaugh,[14] Ann Coulter,[10] Allen West,[15] Michele Bachmann,[16] and other conservative public figures. Before, during, and after his presidency, Ronald Reagan spoke at CPAC a total of 12 times.[17] In his 1985 speech, he referred to CPAC as his "opportunity to dance with the one that brung ya", referring to CPAC having been a contributing factor to his political success.[18][19][20]

CPAC has featured "groups at odds with conservative orthodoxy in years past—including the American Civil Liberties Union," and, more recently, the gay Republican group GOProud, which has attracted major controversy.[21] In 2015 Jamila Bey became the first atheist activist to address CPAC's annual meeting.[22]


In 2006, Senator George Allen won the straw poll. John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Condoleezza Rice finished second, third, and fourth, respectively.[23]

In 2007, the top three candidates in the straw poll were Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and Sam Brownback.[24]

File:George W. Bush speaks at 2008 Conservative Political Action Conference.JPG
President George W. Bush waves to the crowd at CPAC 2008, alongside American Conservative Union chairman David Keene.
In 2008, President George W. Bush addressed CPAC. Mitt Romney won the straw poll, but officially dropped out of the presidential race and ended his campaign during his speech at the conference.[25]

In 2009, Romney won the straw poll for the third consecutive year, while Bobby Jindal finished second.[26] Conservative radio show host Rush Limbaugh gave the keynote address in which he urged conservatives to "take back the nation" after the election of Barack Obama.[27]

File:Glenn Beck speaking at CPAC by Gage Skidmore.jpg
Television and radio host Glenn Beck delivering the keynote address at CPAC 2010.

In 2010, the conference was opened by Marco Rubio, a candidate for the U.S. Senate from Florida that year, and closed by conservative commentator Glenn Beck. In his keynote address Beck denounced progressivism, calling it "a disease in America."[28] The Ronald Reagan Award was given to the Tea Party movement, which marked the first time it was ever given to a group instead of an individual.[29] The 2010 conference marked the first year in which one of the co-sponsoring groups was the John Birch Society.[30] The 2010 conference also featured co-sponsorship by a gay Republican organization called GOProud.[31] In response, some groups, such as Focus on the Family, made threats to leave the conference, but none actually did so.[32] Rep. Ron Paul won the straw poll for the first time.

A so-called "conservative civil war" marked the 2011 conference because of another controversy over the participation of GOProud.[33] Numerous prominent organizations, including the Heritage Foundation, Family Research Council, the American Family Association, and the Media Research Council, among others, joined a boycott organized by the American Principles Project, which said GOProud stood in "diametrical opposition" to core principles of the conservative movement.[34][35] Senator Jim DeMint also announced he was boycotting the conference.[36] Those boycotting the conference also pointed to alleged financial mismanagement by the ACU and the invitation issued to Governor of Indiana Mitch Daniels, who had called for a "truce" on social issues, to be the keynote speaker.[37] Mike Huckabee declined to attend the 2010 and 2011 conferences, citing his concern that, because of the inclusion of GOProud and Ron Paul's victory in the 2010 and 2011 straw polls, CPAC is turning libertarian.[21] Some conservative figures were moving to turn the more recently created Values Voter Summit into a "full-fledged rival to CPAC" by expanding its social issues focus to include economic and security issues.[33]

For the 2012 conference, the ACU board voted to not invite GOProud or the John Birch Society to the 2012 conference.[38] Ron Paul declined an invitation at CPAC 2012 in favor of campaigning in Maine.[39] CPAC organizers sought to increase participation in the straw poll in an attempt to give a candidate other than Paul a chance to win by moving from paper ballots to electronic voting that remained open until the last day of the conference after all the candidates had spoken, as opposed to the afternoon of the second day of the conference in years prior.[40] The presence of Paul supporters was significantly less at CPAC 2012.[citation needed] Mitt Romney won the 2012 straw poll with 38%, beating out Rick Santorum, who placed second with 31%.[41] Newt Gingrich came in third with 15% and Paul was fourth with 12%.[41] However, Politico reported that an unnamed source said that Romney campaign bought CPAC registrations to ensure their victory at the straw poll and The New York Times said the campaign had bused in students from along the East Coast to vote in the straw poll.[42][43] Santorum replied on CNN by saying that he does not "try to rig straw polls" and "talk to the Romney campaign and [see] how many tickets they bought. We've heard all sorts of things."[44]

In 2014, Kentucky senator Rand Paul won the straw poll with 31% of the vote, nearly triple the amount won by the runner-up, Texas senator Ted Cruz, with only 11%, followed by former neurosurgeon Ben Carson with 9%.[45] In 2015, the results were nearly the exact same, with Paul finishing first with 26%. The exception was Wisconsin governor Scott Walker rising to second with 21%, pushing Cruz down to third with 12% and Carson to fourth with 11%.[46]

Straw poll

File:2015 CPAC Straw Poll by Gage Skidmore.jpg
Straw poll results at the 2015 CPAC in National Harbor, Maryland on February 28, 2015.

The annual CPAC straw poll vote traditionally serves as a barometer for the feelings of the conservative movement. During the conference, attendees are encouraged to fill out a survey that asks questions on a variety of issues. The questions regarding the most popular possible presidential candidates are the most widely reported. One component of CPAC is evaluating conservative candidates for president, and the straw poll serves generally to quantify conservative opinion.

Year Straw Poll Winner  % of Votes Second Place  % of Votes
1976 Ronald Reagan[47][48] -- George Wallace --
1980 Ronald Reagan -- -- --
1984 Ronald Reagan -- -- --
1986 Jack Kemp[49][50] -- George H.W. Bush --
1987 Jack Kemp[51] 68% Patrick Buchanan 9%
1993 Jack Kemp[52] -- -- --
1995 Phil Gramm[53] 40% Bob Dole 12%
1998 Steve Forbes[54] 23% George W. Bush 10%
1999 Gary Bauer[55][56] 28% George W. Bush 24%
2000 George W. Bush[57] 42% Alan Keyes 23%
2005 Rudy Giuliani[58] 19% Condoleezza Rice 18%
2006 George Allen[59] 22% John McCain 20%
2007 Mitt Romney[59] 21% Rudy Giuliani 17%
2008 Mitt Romney[59] 35% John McCain 34%
2009 Mitt Romney[59][60] 20% Bobby Jindal 14%
2010 Ron Paul[59][61] 31% Mitt Romney 22%
2011 Ron Paul[62] 30% Mitt Romney 23%
2012 Mitt Romney[63] 38% Rick Santorum 31%
2013 Rand Paul[64] 25% Marco Rubio 23%
2014 Rand Paul[65] 31% Ted Cruz 11%
2015 Rand Paul 26% Scott Walker 21%

Overall, Mitt Romney holds the record of winning more CPAC straw polls than any other individual, with four. Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp and Rand Paul follow with three consecutive wins each, followed by Ron Paul with two wins. Of these five, the Pauls are the only two to win more than one straw poll, yet never appear on a Republican presidential ticket in any election.


Every year there are several awards given to notable conservatives. Although the exact lineup of awards varies, five awards are usually presented:

  • The Ronald Reagan Award is the highest award given at CPAC. It is awarded to dedicated activists, regardless of how high their profile may be on a national scale. ACU director David Keene described the award in 2008: "The winners of this award, our highest honor, are not household names, but the men and women working in the trenches who sacrifice and, in so doing, set an example for others."[66] This award is different from the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award, which is not affiliated with CPAC.
  • The Jeane Kirkpatrick Academic Freedom Award is presented annually in honor of Jeane Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick was affiliated with the American Conservative Union for many years.
  • Defender of the Constitution Award
  • The Blogger of the Year Award is given to a leading conservative member of the blogosphere.
  • The Charlton Heston Courage Under Fire Award is named after the late actor and political activist Charlton Heston.


  1. ^ Diamond, Sara (1995) [1995]. Roads to dominion: right-wing movements and political power in the United States (2 ed.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press. pp. 128, 138, 146, 198, 210, 212, 285, 289, 327. ISBN 0-89862-862-8 
  2. ^ Wilcox, Derk Arend (2000). The right guide: a guide to conservative, free-market, and right-of-center organizations. United States of America: Economics America, Inc. p. 43. ISBN 9780914169062. 
  3. ^ "Ron Paul Wins CPAC Straw Poll". 2010-02-21. Retrieved 2011-02-13. 
  4. ^ Matthew Albright, Nietzsche Is Dead: Youth attendance at CPAC swells but disappoints, 21 February 2010. Accessed 2011-02-13.
  5. ^ Wooldridge, Adrian (2004). The right nation: conservative power in America. New York, NY: The Penguin Post. p. 172. ISBN 1-59420-020-3. 
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  7. ^ Evans, M. Stanton (1979-02-24). "CPAC: Barometer of the Right". The Hour (Norwalk, Conn.). Los Angeles Times Syndicate. p. 4. Retrieved 7 October 2012. 
  8. ^ "Reagan Gives Conservatives A Pep Talk". 1986-01-31. Retrieved 2011-02-13. 
  9. ^ a b c d Turnbull, Jessica (2008-02-14). "Groups travel to conference". The Daily Collegian (State College, Pa.). Retrieved 7 October 2012. 
  10. ^ a b Goldberg, Michelle (2003-02-04). "Shock troops for Bush". Salon. Retrieved 7 October 2012. 
  11. ^ Walters, Robert (1974-01-28). "Buchanan: A Dissenting View". St. Petersburg Times. Washington Star-News Service. p. 3–A. Retrieved 2010-11-18. 
  12. ^ Gillman, Todd J. (2011-02-11). "Texas Rep. Ron Paul gets cheers at conservative conference, remains mum about Senate, presidential ambitions". Dallas Morning News. Retrieved 7 October 2012. 
  13. ^ Parsons, Christi (2010-02-21). "Glenn Beck to Republican Party: Repent". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 7 October 2012. 
  14. ^ "Rush Limbaugh calls on conservatives to take back nation". 2009-02-28. Retrieved 7 October 2012. 
  15. ^ Montopoli, Brian (2011-02-09). "Allen West Gets CPAC Keynote Slot". Retrieved 7 October 2012. 
  16. ^ Murray, Mark. "The 'exceptional' debate". 2010-02-22. Retrieved 7 October 2012. 
  17. ^ Schneider, Gregory L. (1999) [1999]. "Revival and Collapse". Cadres for conservatism: young Americans for freedom and the rise of the Contemporary Right. New York, NY: New York University Press. p. 163. ISBN 0-8147-8108-X 
  18. ^ Ronald Reagan, 1985 CPAC keynote address, March 1, 1985
  19. ^ Reagan went even farther in his book of speeches: "I went to these Conservative Political Action Conference events almost every year I was president. I attended before I was president, too. These were my people, the people who had labored for the conservative cause when it seemed like a hopeless endeavor.... They were the people who persevered, and I can't tell you how much I admire them for their tenacity and their hope."
  20. ^ Reagan, Ronald W. (1989) [1989]. Speaking My Mind: Selected Speeches (1 ed.). New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks. p. 93. ISBN 9780743271110. 0-671-98857X 
  21. ^ a b McCarthy, Daniel, CPAC’s Social War, The American Conservative
  22. ^ "In a first, atheist activist addresses conservative conference". The Washington Post. 2012-12-14. Retrieved 2015-02-28. 
  23. ^ "Sen. George Allen Tops CPAC Poll". Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  24. ^ "Romney, Giuliani Top Conservative Straw Poll". Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  25. ^ "Mitt Romney Quits Race at CPAC (Updated)". Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  26. ^ Romney wins CPAC poll again
  27. ^ "Rush Limbaugh calls on conservatives to take back nation". Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  28. ^ "Glenn Beck Rips Progressivism at CPAC". 2010-02-20. Retrieved 2010-02-20. 
  29. ^ CPAC Reagan Award Winner
  30. ^ Karl, Jonathan (February 19, 2010). "Far-Right John Birch Society 2010". ABC News. Retrieved 2010-02-22. 
  31. ^ GOProud at CPAC creates controversy, calls for boycotts,, December 16, 2009
  32. ^ "CPAC Goes Gay". Mother Jones. 2010-02-18. Retrieved 2011-02-13. 
  33. ^ a b "A conservative civil war over the Conservative Political Action Conference". Retrieved 2011-02-13. 
  34. ^ "Drafting Mitch Daniels into the CPAC Boycott". 2011-01-11. Retrieved 2011-02-13. 
  35. ^ "CPAC's Social War". Retrieved 2011-02-13. 
  36. ^ Smith, Ben (2011-01-21). "DeMint joins CPAC boycott". Retrieved 2011-02-13. 
  37. ^ Domenico Montanaro writes:. "Social conservatives: Don't ignore us". Retrieved 2011-02-13. 
  38. ^ "GOProud and Birchers ousted as CPAC co-sponsors (David Horowitz survives vote)". The Daily Caller. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  39. ^ "Ron Paul declines CPAC invitation". Washington Examiner. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  40. ^ "CPAC Straw Poll Changes Hurt Ron Paul's Hat-Trick Chances". The Huffington Post. 9 February 2012. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  41. ^ a b "Mitt Romney wins CPAC straw poll". 11 February 2012. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  42. ^ "Romney worked the CPAC straw poll". POLITICO. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  43. ^ Zeleny, Jeff (11 Feb 2012). "Romney's Record as Governor Resumes Central Role in Nomination Fight". New York Times. p. A.14. 
  44. ^ "CNN "State of the Union" transcript 2/11/2012". Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  45. ^ "CPAC 2014: The final scorecard". POLITICO. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  46. ^
  47. ^ Conservatives drop third party idea, attempt to win nomination for Reagan February 17, 1976
  48. ^ "Conservatives abandon talk of a third party, throw their support behind Reagan". The Associated Press. February 16, 1976. Retrieved November 9, 2010. 
  49. ^ President Is 'Saving Best Stuff for Last Act' Gadsden Times - Feb 2, 1986
  50. ^ Gailey, Phil (February 1, 1986). "G.O.P. Strategists Clash Over a Presidential Poll". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331 
  51. ^ President Is 'Saving Best Stuff for Last Act' Schenectady Gazette - Feb 21, 1987
  52. ^ "Republican Right Wing Gathers To Bash Clinton, Look to 1996 Conservatives meet in record numbers to find that there is life - and echoes of past unity - after the presidency". The Christian Science Monitor. 22 February 1993. ISSN 0882-7729. 
  53. ^ Gramm gets support in conservative straw poll February 12, 1995
  54. ^ Forbes tops Bush in presidential straw poll of conservatives; Buchanan, Gingrich tie for third February 1, 1998
  55. ^ Neal, Terry M. (31 January 1999). "Bauer Planning Steps for Presidential Bid". Washington DC: Washington Post Company. p. A2. Retrieved 2010-11-06. 
  56. ^ "Conservative activist Bauer runs for president". Life Advocate. Retrieved March 8, 2015. 
  57. ^ "Bush wins conservative poll; Forbes supporters impressed; Governor wins 42 percent, Keyes second at 23 percent". Washington Post Company. 23 January 2000. Retrieved 2010-11-06. 
  58. ^ "Bracing for the worst". The Washington Times. 23 February 2005. Retrieved March 8, 2015. 
  59. ^ a b c d e Danielle Kurtzleben (11 February 2011). "CPAC Straw Poll Not Predictive of Eventual Nominee". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  60. ^ Sam Stein (31 March 2009). "Romney Wins CPAC Poll, Palin Tied For Third". Huffington Post. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  61. ^ Brenda Shepard; Mark Murray (21 February 2010). "Ron Paul wins CPAC straw poll". NBC News. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  62. ^ Michael Falcone (12 February 2011). "Ron Paul Wins 2011 CPAC Straw Poll, Sarah Palin Finishes a Distant 9th Place". ABC News. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  63. ^ Josh Lederman (12 February 2012). "Santorum suggests Romney rigged CPAC straw poll victory". The Hill. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  64. ^ Stephen Dinan; David Sherfinski (16 March 2013). "Rand Paul wins The Washington Times-CPAC 2013 Straw Poll". Washington Times. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  65. ^ James Hohmann (8 March 2014). "A Rand Paul rout in CPAC straw poll". Politico. Retrieved 9 October 2014. 
  66. ^ CPAC Pleased to Present Annual Ronald Reagan Award to Jessica Echard

External links