The PJ Tatler

Gingrich Jumps to Big 30-Point Lead in Florida, But...

…what are the polls really telling us, and how solid are they?

Here’s why I try not to get wrapped around the axle every time a new poll comes out. This one, from left-leaning PPP, has Gingrich up over Romney 47-17. But primary electorates can be very volatile.

In November 2007, guess who the front-runners were in Florida? If you guessed Obama and McCain, you get the game show buzzer.

In a hypothetical matchup of the front-running presidential candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton leads Republican Rudy Giuliani in Florida by 51 percent to 42 percent, according to a poll taken this week by CNN/Opinion Research Corp.

The poll nearly reverses the results of a Mason-Dixon poll taken in Florida earlier this month, which indicated Giuliani led Clinton by 50 percent to 43 percent.

It’s hard to tell whether the contradictory results reflect shifting opinions over a couple of weeks, different polling methods or an ambivalent electorate. Perhaps it merely indicates a volatile, wide-open campaign that could shift several times before the Florida Primary on Jan. 29 and the general election next November.

That’s from November 28, 2007, analogous to this week in the election cycle. The first sentence almost reads like bad comedy now. Neither Giuliani nor Clinton ended up winning their nominations, though both were “front-runners” in Florida in late November 2007. Rudy totally flamed out. Hillary got steamrolled by Captain Hopenchange and his back-up singers in the media.

I’m not going to turn from that and then argue that policy matters, look at the candidates’ records, etc. The fact is, of the group of major candidates on both sides who were looking for victory in Florida in 2007, the least credible and least experienced of the bunch ended up winning the whole thing. Giuliani would have been a better president. Hillary would have been a better president. Maybe. She couldn’t have been a whole lot worse. Neither of them won.

Do polls matter? Well, they make for splashy headlines and blog fodder. They make fundraising either easier or harder depending on where you rank in them. But they’re not necessarily predictive at this point of how the vote will actually turn out.