Mitt Romney leads the pack. No, it’s Scott Walker, or maybe Jeb Bush. Hang on, Mike Huckabee’s support is rising—is he the favorite?
It can be tough to make sense of the polling data about the potential candidates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. The GOP is home to a remarkably deep group of Oval Office hopefuls, and no Republican has anything close to the massive polling lead Hillary Clinton enjoys over the Democratic field, as recent lead changes show. Fox News released a poll showing Romney in first place on the very day he announced he wasn’t running. Scott Walker’s numbers surged a few days later, after an impassioned speech to conservatives at the Iowa Freedom Summit. A Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll then showed Walker at the top of the polls in that key, early-primary state—well ahead of Jeb Bush, who has polled the strongest overall in the last month or so. Mike Huckabee, meanwhile, tops the field among Republicans nationwide, according to the latest CNN/ORC data.
Can one predict the 2016 winner based on these numbers?
A 2011 analysis by Chris Wlezien and Robert Erikson found presidential polls taken 300 days before the election have little to no predictive value. The 2016 election, incidentally, is over 600 days away. Brendan Nyhan makes the same point at The Times: The average voter isn’t thinking much about the election right now, and responses to early polls mostly reflect simple name recognition instead of voting preference. Barack Obama lagged 18 points behind the better-known Hillary Clinton in December 2007, while the graph of polling for the Republican nomination in 2012 looks like some sort of jagged, confused rainbow. Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and even Herman Cain temporarily rose to the top.