Jeb Bush is surging! Wait, now it's Scott Walker! Hold on — Ted Cruz is moving up!
Ignore those polls of early nomination trial heats!
Last week, Cruz was rising rapidly in the Republican test ballots. The Washington Post had him second to Bush. Public Policy Polling also has him in second place, but trailing Walker.
That tells you exactly one thing: Cruz received a burst of publicity by being the first to formally announce his candidacy. At this point, with more than a dozen candidates and almost a year to go before even the first primary vote, just getting air time, especially in the partisan media, is enough to get a bump.
Someone else will get some publicity, and another polling surge will commence. It won't have any predictive value, either.
Most Republican voters are inclined to basically like all of the party's candidates; almost anyone interested enough to vote in primary elections would vote for any of them in a general election, even the most obscure ones. And there’s very little to differentiate the candidates — and most of them will be long gone before most Republicans get a chance to vote.
At this point, polls basically reflect name recognition and recall, and candidates who have been in the news do better.
That’s why I don’t pay much attention to the candidates’ favorability numbers. It’s almost certain that any opinions held by primary electorates could easily be reversed as the campaign goes on.
If you want to know how the nomination race is going, follow the information about what party actors think, such as the Boston Globe’s tracker on endorsements from New Hampshire Republican players. Those indicators all show the race is still wide open.
To contact the author on this story: Jonathan Bernstein at firstname.lastname@example.org