I was looking for something else when I stumbled onto a Wash Post-ABC poll from late Feb. 2007, roughly equivalent to the current stage in presidential election cycle. On the Dem side, Hillary Clinton had a solid lead over Barack Obama, John Edwards was still in the hunt and the pollsters threw Al Gore’s name onto the list based on a boomlet of speculation that he might decide to unretire from politics. Gore finished third in the poll and, as you recall, stayed retired.
On the Repub side, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani had a commanding lead, 44-21 percent, over his nearest rival for the Repub nomination, Sen. John McCain. Newt Gingrich was a distant third at 15 percent. (He didn’t end up running.) Mitt Romney was a pitiful fourth at at a pitiful four percent. The Post pollsters offered respondents nine other Repub names — and most of those nine did actually run for president in 2008, but none of them scored above two percent.
Giuliani appeared to be surging, as his poll number had jumped up 10 percentage points from the same poll a month earlier and his lead over McCain had more than tripled.
The main point of this ancient history is fairly obvious. Polls 21 months before an election tell us little about where things are going and not even that much about where things stand. In fact, Giuliani continued to be widely considered as one of the frontrunners for the Repub nomination until the fall of 2007. He skipped Iowa, dropped in and out of New Hampshire and ended up finishing a distant fourth. He decided to make a stand in Florida and ended up finishing a distant third there, before dropping out.
You could, if you wanted to, note that at least the Post poll had McCain, the eventual nominee, in second place. But that would overlook the fact that McCain did so badly for the rest of 2007 that he had to lay off most of his campaign staff. After an embarrassing distant third place finish in Iowa, McCain’s chances were resurrected in New Hampshire. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the surprise winner of Iowa, was the last man standing as McCain ground out his nomination victory. At the time of the February Post-ABC poll, was one of the nine guys who scored two percent or less.
It’s our nature to want to predict the future; our fate to get it wrong.
So, in comment thread, let me know who will be the Repub nomine in 2012. Hint: It won’t be Haley Barbour and probably not Rudy Giuliani either.
Urgent update: Oy. I really had been meaning to write my little Pres. Giuliani piece for several days. Just got around to it this a.m. and immediately after hitting the publish button, I found that the incomparable Jon Stewart did a much better and funnier job of it last night (Giuliani makes a brief appearance but Stewart also reminds us of the frontrunner status at similar early stages of non-nominees Joe Lieberman in 2004 and Mario Cuomo in 1992.) Stewart’s piece is titled “Premature Ecalculation.”