Conservative Political Action Conference

The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC; /ˈsiːpæk/ 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).

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, St. Louis, and San Diego. Political front runners take the stage at this convention.

Speakers have included Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Pat Buchanan, Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Tony Snow, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Allen West, Michele Bachmann, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Gary Johnson, Mike Pence, Jeanine Pirro, Betsy DeVos, Lou Dobbs, Nigel Farage, and other conservative public figures.

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Number of CPAC attendees over time
President Ronald Reagan speaking at the 1985 CPAC
George W. Bush speaks at 2008 Conservative Political Action Conference.JPG
President George W. Bush speaking at the 2008 CPAC
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President Donald Trump speaking at the 2017 CPAC

The conference was founded in 1973 by the American Conservative Union and Young Americans for Freedom as a small gathering of dedicated conservatives. The 2010 CPAC featured co-sponsorship for the first time from the John Birch Society and GOProud. 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. The 2011 CPAC was Donald Trump's first speaking appearance at CPAC. His appearance at CPAC was organized by GOProud, in conjunction with GOPround supporter Roger Stone, who was close with Trump. GOPround pushed for a write-in campaign for Donald Trump at CPAC's presidential straw poll. Christopher R. Barron, co-founder of GOProud who would later not only endorse Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, but also launch LGBT for Trump, said he "would love to see Mr. Trump run for president." For the 2012 CPAC conference, the ACU board voted to not invite GOProud or the John Birch Society to the 2012 conference. The 2011 CPAC speech Trump gave is credited for helping kick-start his political career within the Republican Party. The 2015 CPAC featured Jamila Bey who became the first atheist activist to address CPAC's annual meeting. The 2016 CPAC featured co-sponsorship for the first time from the Log Cabin Republicans.


In 2014, CPAC extended an invitation to the American Atheists, which was immediately withdrawn on the same day due to controversial statements.

White nationalist Richard Spencer arrived at CPAC on 23 February 2017 as a symbol of the alt-right efforts to conform with conservatives, and was subsequently ejected. Numerous news organizations described the incident as well as a conversation between Steve Bannon and Matt Schlapp as a possible sign of allying the alt-right to mainstream conservatism in the United States, and raised questions on whether the alt-right would possibly become the dominant viewpoint in the Republican Party.

Milo Yiannopoulos

In December 2016, CPAC extended an invitation to conservative blogger Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at the event, despite his history of inflammatory and controversial views on feminism, racial minorities, and transgender people. The invitation was canceled when the Reagan Battalion re-posted a video of 2016 and 2015 YouTube videos in which Yiannopoulos is heard making comments defending sexual relationships between adult men and 13-year-old boys, citing his own sexual experiences at that age with "Father Michael", a Catholic priest. In his resignation speech to Breitbart News, Yiannopoulos says that he was sexually abused at the age of 13 and apologized for his comments, stating that he was vehemently opposed to child sexual abuse and that his provocative style was not intended to marginalize the subject matter.

Annual straw poll

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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 n/a George Wallace n/a
1980 Ronald Reagan n/a n/a n/a
1984 Ronald Reagan n/a n/a n/a
1986 Jack Kemp n/a George H.W. Bush n/a
1987 Jack Kemp 68 Patrick Buchanan 9
1993 Jack Kemp n/a n/a n/a
1995 Phil Gramm 40 Bob Dole 12
1998 Steve Forbes 23 George W. Bush 10
1999 Gary Bauer 28 George W. Bush 24
2000 George W. Bush 42 Alan Keyes 23
2005 Rudy Giuliani 19 Condoleezza Rice 18
2006 George Allen 22 John McCain 20
2007 Mitt Romney 21 Rudy Giuliani 17
2008 Mitt Romney 35 John McCain 34
2009 Mitt Romney 20 Bobby Jindal 14
2010 Ron Paul 31 Mitt Romney 22
2011 Ron Paul 30 Mitt Romney 23
2012 Mitt Romney 38 Rick Santorum 31
2013 Rand Paul 25 Marco Rubio 23
2014 Rand Paul 31 Ted Cruz 11
2015 Rand Paul 26 Scott Walker 21
2016 Ted Cruz 40 Marco Rubio 30

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 (although Ron Paul did receive one Electoral College vote in 2016).


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Stage for CPAC 2017

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." 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.
  • The "We The People Award" for the most conservative state legislature, an award determined by evaluating how closely elected officials adhere to conservative principles.

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