Early poll results: do they matter?

These days it is impossible to go online without hearing something about the 2016 presidential election. Whether it is Donald Trump railing against Mexicans or Hilary Clinton covering up a semi-scandal, media is abuzz with politics.

But does it matter?

Much of the polling history for the past elections suggests that the summer prior to a voting season is the time when voters vent their frustrations. Certainly, the topics that will dominate the upcoming debates are thrashed out in these early days. Yet the decisions voters make are often dramatically different from what the polls would suggest today.

It is not until the New Hampshire primary in January that the American public begins to think seriously about who should run the country.

This week’s poll results were reported by Public Policy Polling. For democrats “Bernie Sanders now leads the field in the state with 42% to 35% for Hillary Clinton, 6% for Jim Webb, 4% for Martin O’Malley, 2% for Lincoln Chafee, and 1% for Lawrence Lessig.”

The results for Republicans show that “Trump laps the Republican field with 35% to 11% for John Kasich, 10% for Carly Fiorina, 7% each for Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, 6% for Ben Carson, 4% each for Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, and 3% for Rand Paul…Rick Perry at 2%, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, and Rick Santorum at 1%, and Jim Gilmore, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal all at less than 1%”.

Some information can clearly be divined from this litany of numbers. For instance, Jim Gilmore and Lincoln Chafee do not stand a chance. Also, the unprecedented number of Republican candidates is fracturing the field letting no one but the loudest participant (i.e. Trump) have any clear majority.

Yet think back to the summer of 2007. At that time, polls were showing Rudy Giuliani in the lead for GOP nomination with 28 percent- John McCain only had 18 percent. In the democratic field, Hilary far outpaced Obama at 42 percent to 27 percent.

The results of the first primary tell a different story: McCain won the Republican primary with 37 percent; Giuliani only managed to snag a measly 8.7 percent. As for the Democrats, by January, Obama had become nearly neck and neck with Hilary, though the Clinton still held a slight lead at 39.1 to 36.5 percent.

Of course, even the primary results do not guarantee a win in November. “The people who show up in primaries tend to be the very, very motivated and usually committed to one candidate or another. That’s not necessarily the people who show up on Election Day in November,” said Ron Schmidt of University of Southern Maine.

For now, the best one can do is enjoy the colorful antics of Donald Trump and the soaring optimism behind Bernie Sanders. If history tells us anything, both will be gone by this time next year.

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