Yes the race to see who will succeed Obama in the White House is in full swing, but polls don’t really tell us anything at this point.
There was a fun blog tussle yesterday between Aaron Blake at The Fix and Jonathan Bernstein over at Bloomberg.
Blake was pretty clearly baiting Bernstein when he wrote that telling people to ignore polls about 2016 is wrong. As he put it:
Whenever someone complains that polling this far out doesn’t matter, we sigh just a little. Hillary Clinton’s poll standing, after all, is pretty indicative that she’s the favorite for the Democratic nomination. That’s an extreme example, but you get the idea.
Bernstein replied that we really should be ignoring polls for 2016 right now:
But by themselves early polling numbers are almost useless. Voters aren’t engaged this early. The surveys are measuring only name recognition and, to a lesser extent, vague impressions of the candidates who are well known.
Bernstein is totally right here. Yes Hillary is the front runner for the 2016 Democratic nomination right now, indeed she might have already wrapped it up, but the main indicator of this isn’t doing well in national polls among self-identified Democrats. Her strength in attracting Democratic political operatives into her camp, her long list of endorsements, and fundraising via the “independent” super pac Ready For Hillary are all much better indicators. And don’t forget one of the most important indicator, that only two other viable Democrats and running right now, Elizabeth Warren and Martin O’Malley, and neither of them seem to be making much headway.
In addition national polling numbers tend to be driven by events, rather than the other way around. Garry Hart dominated national polling among Democrats during the 1988 cycle until the Donna Rice scandal broke and it all fell apart for him. Likewise few people outside of Arkansas knew who Bill Clinton was in December 1990.
If you want to know whose winning, national polling just isn’t the right way to go. Instead follow Bernstein’s more helpful advice:
Wait until late fall and start paying attention to Iowa polling, but until then you should follow high-profile endorsements and signs that the candidates are gathering resources from within the party.
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