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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

It's Still Early

At The Chicago Tribune, Eric Zorn offers a useful note of caution about early polls:

A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll taken in late August 2007 — nearly this exact point in the previous election cycle — had former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani way out in front of his Republican rivals, and Arizona Sen. John McCain, who eventually won the nomination, limping along in fourth place with 7 percent support.

Among Democrats in that same survey, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was pounding the eventual winner, Illinois Sen. Obama, 38 percent to 25 percent. In early September 2007, CNN/Opinion Research had Clinton up 48 percent to 23 percent, and McCain still lagging well behind Giuliani and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson.

These polls weren't outliers. Giuliani and Clinton led in every major scientific survey from that time archived at the indispensable McCain didn't surge into the lead in any national poll until the second week of January 2008. Obama didn't pass Clinton until the first week of February.

Eight years ago at this point in the cycle, a pack of Democrats was running to challenge Republican President George W. Bush. A Fox poll had Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman in the lead, as did surveys by CNN/USA Today/Gallup and Quinnipiac University. Newsweek had retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark in front, NBC News/Wall Street Journal concluded former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was the narrow favorite of his party, and only Time/CNN found the eventual nominee, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, in first place.

Gallup, however ,has noted that early Republican frontrunners do tend to go on to the nomination.