Polling is to politics as statistics are to baseball. Everybody is always looking at them, analyzing them, doing deep dives into the data and ultimately coming up with some way to determine if the numbers they see are a good predictor of future events.

In baseball, you have a better chance than in politics. In politics, particularly early on in the process, you’re just as likely to predict who can win a race by throwing darts just as much as you can the polls.

For example, Donald Trump has gained on Jeb Bush in a matchup for the New Hampshire primary:

Jeb Bush narrowly leads the field in the state set to host the first primary of the 2016 presidential campaign, but Donald Trump’s gains in the state suggest the billionaire businessman is establishing a following in New Hampshire.

The new CNN/WMUR New Hampshire Primary poll finds Trump at 11%, just behind Bush at 16% in a wide open contest for the Republican nomination for president. Bush and Trump are followed by Rand Paul at 9%, Scott Walker at 8%, and Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio both at 6%. Ben Carson and Chris Christie each have 5% support.

As the low numbers at the top of the pack indicate, the field is far from settled. Twenty-one percent say they don’t know which of the 19 candidates tested in the poll they’d support, and overall, 75% say they’re not committed to any candidate.

Those who follow politics always assume everybody is as heavily invested as they are. That’s usually not the case and what it means is, Trump’s numbers largely represent name recognition more than anything else (by that same token, the same goes for Jeb.)

Polls this early on are volatile and fluid and quite honestly, should not be taken seriously. If we take a trip back in time, you’ll see early polling is rather useless, even on the Democratic side. From January to June of 1991, the polling looked like this:


You can see that Jesse Jackson was ahead of Bill Clinton and Mario Cuomo looked like a shoo-in. Things started to change, however, towards the end of the year:


The team at FiveThirtyEight adjusted for name recognition and you can see that Clinton’s numbers jumped as a result.

People want to think Mitt Romney was the heir apparent from the word go, but that’s not actually the case. Real Clear Politics has this graphic showing how volatile the polling in 2011 was:


As you can see, Romney started out as the favorite but by the summer, Rick Perry was  in command. Once Perry imploded, people looked for somebody else and it was Herman Cain who rose to the top of the pile. Newt Gingrich was next and Romney even faced a challenge for a little bit by Rick Santorum.

This year will just as likely be all over the map. The good news is, the Republican Party has a large, diverse and well qualified group of candidates running this time around.

The lesson here is to not get too worked up over Donald Trump and whatever early polling success he has. It is not likely to last once primary voters get to know the candidates more and have a chance to really listen to their ideas. Trump will do well, early on, but it largely will not matter.


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