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"Why It’s Too Early to Call the GOP Race" - another poll

While the U.S. presidential primary season is always a horse race, never before have there been so many commentators, pollsters, pundits, and bloggers shouting out the names of whom they think will take the GOP nomination. Early polling can occasionally predict the future outcome—Kansas Senator Bob Dole and Texas Governor George W. Bush both had the edge over their opponents at this stage in the process, and both became their party’s nominees in 1996 and 2000, respectively—but a look at elections past reveals that we should probably exercise some caution. Here are a few examples:

► In October 2007, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani led the Republican field with 28%, according to a poll from Real Clear Politics. In second place was Tennessee’s former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson (22%), and Arizona Senator John McCain, the eventual nominee, trailed far behind, at 14%. What happened: After the primaries began, Giuliani’s positions on abortion and gay rights proved too liberal for most Republican voters, and he failed to get traction in the state he focused on most, Florida. Thompson, a laggard campaigner who never quite found his niche, dropped out of the race in mid-January.

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► Back in August 2007, a Quinnipiac Poll had New York Senator Hillary Clinton leading Illinois Senator Barack Obama by 15 percentage points, and other surveys placed her even further ahead of our future president. What happened: Obama won the lead-off Iowa caucuses in January. Although Clinton quickly scored a comeback victory in New Hampshire, she hadn’t planned adequately for a long campaign, especially in the states with low-turnout caucuses. Obama and his team out-organized her and out-campaigned her in almost all of those caucus states, and these wins were just enough for him to edge Clinton in the delegate count and give him the nomination.

► In 1991, the polls put New York Governor Mario Cuomo far ahead in the lead for the Democratic nomination for president. Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton was near the bottom, often with only a few percent. What happened: After tremendous deliberation, Cuomo never even entered the presidential race, and Clinton and his charisma overwhelmed other less impressive Democrats, such as former California Governor Jerry Brown and former Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas, paving his way to eight years in the White House.

► Clinton’s predecessor as the Democratic nominee, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, was also discounted early on. As late as December 1987, Dukakis had a mere 15% in a Washington Post-ABC News poll, compared to Colorado Senator Gary Hart (30%) and activist Jesse Jackson (20%). What happened: Hart continued to be dogged by a sex scandal—remember Monkey Business?—and Jackson was unable to convince Democrats that he had a realistic chance of winning in November.

Larry J. Sabato is the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

http://www.parade.com/news/2011/10/why-its-too-early-to-call...

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