By Mark Z. Barabak
9:00 AM EDT, October 23, 2013
There is a new poll out in New Hampshire, the first presidential primary state, but we won’t bother sharing the results for a simple reason: They’re meaningless.
Yes, the numbers can influence donors, shape the narrative of the campaign (to use that hoity-toity word) and give political junkies something to discuss around the water cooler (if anyone still gathers around water coolers anymore).
But any survey of voter sentiment taken more than two years before the first 2016 presidential ballots are cast is a pointless exercise as far as predictive powers go. It’s somewhat akin to sitting down this evening to plan a summer trip or ski vacation based on what forecasts say the weather will be like in June or November of 2016. (Please note: This is not a knock against any particular poll or individual pollster. Some of a political writer’s best friends are pollsters.)
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The Gallup Poll offers a useful bit of history. There have been a dozen races over the last 60-plus years in which there was a significant contest for the Democratic nomination: 1952, 1956, 1960, 1968, 1972, 1976, 1984, 1988, 1992, 2000, 2004 and 2008. In only 4 out of those 12 races -- fewer than half -- did the front-runner in late December or early January trial heats win the Democratic Party nomination. For those keeping score, they were Adlai Stevenson in 1952, John F. Kennedy in 1960, Walter Mondale in 1984 and Al Gore in 2000.
Of the four, only Kennedy went on to win the White House, in a squeaker against Richard Nixon.
Polls taken in individual states are just as changeable. The results in Iowa -- which has traditionally cast the first votes of the nominating process at precinct-level caucuses -- shape the race heading into New Hampshire’s primary, which in turn influences the dynamic in follow-up states South Carolina and Nevada, and on and on.
None of this is to suggest that former Secretary Of State/New York Sen./First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, the overwhelming front-runner in early Democratic polling, won’t hang on to to win the New Hampshire primary, the Democratic nomination and, ultimately, the White House. (The race is much wider open on the Republican side, surveys suggest.)
You just won’t know it until it happens, regardless of what the polls say.
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