For the second successive year, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas won the presidential straw poll conducted at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, capturing 30 percent of the vote.
Former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts was second in the straw poll with 23 percent of the vote, Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio announced at the conference in Washington held by the American Conservative Union. The others on the ballot finished far behind.
The unscientific straw poll is considered an indication of who has the support of conservatives heading into the campaign season for the presidential primaries. But it is not considered a strong indicator of who might win the Republican nomination for president. In 2007, Romney came in first, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York was second, and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the eventual GOP presidential candidate in 2008, placed fifth.
"I think this poll is really a popularity poll and it probably isn't directly a good measure of fitness for the presidency," Steven Smith, a political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis, told Minnesota Public Radio
. "But it's a place where conservatives seek to send a message to the party."
Last year, Paul won the top spot with 31 percent of the vote. Romney, who won the previous three CPAC straw polls, was second with 22 percent of the vote.
Also among the 15 names on the ballot were former Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico (6 percent); Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey (6 percent); former Speaker Newt Gingrich (5 percent); former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota (4 percent); Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota (4 percent); Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana (4 percent); former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska (3 percent); Herman Cain of Georgia, former talk radio host and former chief executive of Godfather Pizza (2 percent); former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas (2 percent); former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania (2 percent); Sen. John Thune of South Dakota (2 percent); former Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah (1 percent); and Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi (1 percent).
Ten of the people on the ballot spoke at the CPAC convention, but Christie, Huckabee, Palin, Huntsman and Johnson did not.
The number of ballots cast this year was 3,742, Fabrizio said, adding that the figure was about a 56 percent increase from the number who cast ballots at the 2010 CPAC. About 11,000 people registered for CPAC this year and were thus eligible to participate in the straw poll. Fabrizio also noted that there were a number of write-in votes this year. Notable among those, he said, was Donald Trump, who received about 1 percent of the vote.
Fifty-six percent of the respondents said they were "generally satisfied with the field of potential candidates," compared with 43 percent who said they wished "the GOP had a better field of potential candidates."
The balloting opened on Thursday morning and closed around 2 p.m. Friday afternoon, even though the vote had been scheduled to continue until 5 p.m., Phil Musser, a GOP analyst who works for Pawlenty, said in an interview on Fox News. Pawlenty, Paul and Cain spoke after the voting was closed.
The straw poll covers more than preference for president. It also asks questions about issues. Fabrizio said the No. 1 concern of participants in the straw poll was " the size of government and the role government has in your life."
One question asked participants to choose among three statements to represent their "core beliefs and ideology."
Eighty-four percent chose "My most important goal is to promote individual freedom by reducing the size and scope of government and its intrusion into the lives of citizens."
Nine percent selected "My most important goal is to promote traditional values by protecting traditional marriage and protecting the life of the unborn."
And 6 percent chose "My most important goal is to secure and guarantee American safety at home and abroad regardless of the cost or the size of government."
The top four issues respondents identified as being important to them were "reducing the size of the federal government," "reducing government spending," "lowering taxes," and "stimulating the economy to create jobs."
Follow Carla Baranauckas on Twitter.