I don't hate polls. I am not all that bothered by talk of a 2016 presidential campaign that is almost three years away. What does make me apoplectic, however, is watching political commentators seriously analyze a poll taken in 2013 about potential 2016 presidential candidates.
I’m talking specifically about the most recent survey from the well-respected Des Moines Register that tested the favorable ratings of some of the most talked about potential 2016 candidates. With their insatiable need to feed the 24-hour news beast, these types of polls are irresistible fodder for harried cable TV producers and anxious and overworked web editors. Polls like these spur artificial discussions and analysis on the internet and TV and should be ignored by serious political observers.
First, let me say that I think the Des Moines Register and its eponymous poll are top rate. They understand the Iowa Caucuses and have an impressive track record of success in polling them.
That said, a poll taken in December of 2013 about the popularity of potential 2016 candidates has no predictive value at all. It is simply a measure of name recognition 25 months before Iowa voters brave the cold of a January night to cast their ballots.
This poll finds that Joe Biden, the Vice President of the United States, Hillary Clinton, the most famous political female on the planet, Paul Ryan, the most recent GOP vice presidential nominee, and the past two winners on the GOP side--Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum--are the best-liked of the candidates tested. We also know that they are also the best known candidates and have better name recognition than other potential 2016ers.
While inside-the-Beltway types have been talking about the prospects of Scott Walker and Ted Cruz non-stop, most Iowans (and most "normal" humans) haven't. Forty-three percent of GOPers have no opinion of the Wisconsin Governor, and 37 percent don't know enough about the Texas Senator to rate him. Impressions of these two men are based on a very incomplete picture. Wait until the Iowa voters have gotten to know these candidates better before making sweeping generalizations about their "troubles" or "opportunities" in a caucus.
On the Democratic side, more than 70 percent of Iowa Democrats know nothing about Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer or Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. That can change, of course. But today they are simply blank slates.
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