Paul Ryan wins Iowa poll! What's that mean for 2016?

Paul Ryan is a hit with Iowa Republicans, at least for now. But former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is just 7 points down, there's a hefty margin of error, and the Iowa caucuses are still three years out.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin gestures as he walks through a basement corridor on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, after working out a budget deal with Sen. Patty Murray (D) of Washington to avert a government shutdown in January. Riding high, Ryan also topped the Iowa poll for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.

Iowa Republicans love Paul Ryan, apparently. That’s probably the most surprising finding in the Des Moines Register’s new poll of possible 2016 presidential candidates.

Fully 73 percent of self-described GOP respondents to the Iowa survey view Representative Ryan (R) of Wisconsin either very or mostly favorably. That makes the former VP candidate and current House Budget Committee chairman the leading Republican hopeful in the state. Of course, the Iowa caucuses are still three years away, but it’s not too early to start chewing this stuff over, right? Right? Bueller? Bueller?

Second in the Register’s GOP rankings is Mike Huckabee, with a comparable favorable rating of 66 percent. Perhaps this is one reason the former Arkansas governor has quit his radio show and is talking openly of perhaps running for president again. He won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, after all.

Third is former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a 2012 candidate, with 58 percent.

Maybe the second biggest surprise in the poll is Ted Cruz’s lagging ratings. The Texas senator and tea party firebrand is tied for last in the Register’s Republican rankings, with 46 percent favorability.

Why did Ryan do so well here? One reason may be simple celebrity. He stumped the country for his ticket only a bit over a year ago, after all.

“Ryan’s numbers speak to the power of being on the national ticket – even if you don’t win,” write Washington Post political experts Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan on The Fix blog.

Governor Huckabee and Senator Santorum, the “show” and “place” finishers, weren’t national candidates. But they were candidates for the nomination, which may be why they finished ahead of national campaign neophytes such as Senator Cruz and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (who came in at a 51 percent favorability rating, if you’re interested).

Second, there’s the map. Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin is adjacent to Iowa. He’s perhaps a regional favorite son. (Though we’ll note that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was the person who tied with Cruz for last.)

Finally, maybe Ryan isn’t actually as popular in the Hawkeye State as the poll shows.

Look at the Iowa poll’s methodology. It surveyed 650 state adults, but that number included Democrats and independents. The poll sampled the opinion of but 182 self-identified Republicans for its GOP-only rankings, which are the ones we cited above.

At 650 respondents, the poll’s margin of error was plus-or-minus 3.8 percent. For a subset of 182 respondents, the margin of error would be much higher.

There’s nothing wrong with this – it’s a reputable survey. It’s just something to keep in mind as we wait out the (many) months until candidate activity begins to quicken.

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