This week, the well-respected pollsters at Quinnipiac University released the results from a national survey of 672 Republicans they conducted November 23-30, 2015.  This poll found Donald Trump leading the GOP race with 27% of the vote, followed by Marco Rubio (17%), Ted Cruz (16%), Ben Carson (16%), Jeb Bush (5%), and several other candidates below 5%.

This survey immediately prompted the following headlines:

 “Poll: Trump leads as Carson fades” (CNN)
“Donald Trump Leads GOP Field, Carson Falls to Third” (Breitbart)
“Carson tumbles, Rubio rises and Trump still on top in new national GOP poll” (Fox News)
“Trump Builds His Lead, Clinton Gains in Matchups With GOP” (Bloomberg)

Well then, let’s coronate Donald Trump right now and dispense with the frivolities of voting.

The real truth is that national polling in GOP primaries (and, even Democratic primaries) two months before any primary ballots have been cast has historically been meaningless and far from an accurate predictor of who will end up the eventual nominee of a respective party.

In December 2003:
CBS News declares that Howard Dean “pulls away” in Democratic race.  Dean led in the CBS News national survey of 290 Democratic primary voters with 23% of the vote, followed by Wesley Clark (10%) and Joe Lieberman (10%).  Much further down the ballot test, eventual presidential nominee John Kerry was at just 4% and his running-mate John Edwards at just 2%.

In December 2007:
Gallup polling shows that Hillary Clinton “maintains large lead over Obama nationally” in the Democratic primary campaign.  Clinton led Obama 45%-15% in the national poll of 513 Democratic voters.  (We know how that turned out.)

Further, Gallup’s survey of 399 Republican voters gives Rudy Giuliani (25%) nearly a ten point lead over Mike Huckabee (16%) for the GOP nomination, with eventual nominee John McCain in third place.

In December 2011:
Less than one-month until the Iowa caucuses and about one month to the day before the New Hampshire primary, CNN national polling shows Newt Gingrich “topping the field of Republican presidential candidates by double digits in three of the four states to first hold contests in the race for the GOP nomination.”  Eventual nominee Mitt Romney was behind by double-digits in Iowa, and Iowa caucus winner Rick Santorum was at 5%.

Bottom line – take national GOP primary polling with a tablespoon (or better, yet a bowl) of salt.  Primary contests are notoriously fluid as voters really focus only in the few weeks immediately prior to the election.  Folks, this is still the pre-season!

Public Opinion Strategies