Thursday, December 1, 2011

Polls: Do they matter?

An interesting look's the Real Clear Politics Average from the GOP Presidential primary race four years ago (figures from November 30, 2007):
Rudy Giuliani - 28.5%
Fred Thompson - 14.2%
John McCain - 12.8%
Mitt Romney - 12.7%
Mike Huckabee - 9.2%
Ron Paul - 4.2%
Obviously, those numbers didn't stay that way. Giuliani had put all of his eggs in the Florida basket, so he was not a contender in Iowa and New Hampshire, so when Charlie Crist stabbed him in the back and endorsed John McCain and McCain won the Florida primary, Giuliani went from frontrunner to hopeless also-ran within days.

So are polls useful? I think they are, for two specific tasks: taking a snapshot of a moment and tracking trends. The "snapshot" taken by a poll may be useful when it's right before an election, but considering the fluid, rapidly-changing nature of our political climate, the further away you are from an actual election date, the less able they are to accurately predict results.

Accordingly, I don't believe they are necessarily predictive of long-term results, but that's how the media tends to use them. The polls we've been seeing the past few months have been trumpeted in headlines as supposedly telling us what's going to happen in January and February.

Similarly, I'm just not putting much stock in the polls on the Florida Senate race - other than the fact that they repeatedly show that a large number of voters are undecided. After the dust settles from the presidential primaries, the voters will start paying more attention to other races. Let's see what those polls say in April.

Back to the presidential race - due to the accelerated schedule, Iowa's caucus is on January 3 and New Hampshire is a week later. Add in the distraction of the holidays and there is functionally less than a month for the presidential candidate to make their case before people start voting.

So are the latest polls showing Gingrich ahead (and with a commanding lead in Florida) really predictive of how the election will go? Is there time for Herman Cain or even RIck Perry to recover? Will another candidate rise to the top? Or will Romney waltz past the carnage of his primary opponents and take the nomination? What do you think?

One thing I don't need a poll to predict:

December is going to be very interesting month.

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