I noticed a few stories in today's USA Today (6/13/11) about supposed Republican front-runner Mitt Romney. There will be plenty more of this to come–horserace commentary based on polling that's being done in order to give journalists a reason to talk about one candidate more than another, which candidate has "momentum" and so on.
It's worth remembering that the polling at this stage of the race is useless. Actually, it's probably worse than that, since the political press corps obsesses over this trivia at the expense of doing any actually useful reporting about the candidates.
I wanted to find a story from around the same time frame in 2007 to illustrate how misguided this polling can be. It didn't take long. Here's the lead of a June 7, 2007 Washington Post article:
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York holds a solid lead over her rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, while the contest for the Republican nomination appears even more unsettled than it did when it began five months ago, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll.
Clinton's lead remains steady over her two principal challengers, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, and the poll contains troubling news for both. Obama's support has softened noticeably, highlighting the challenge he faces in turning high interest in his candidacy into votes. Edwards, meanwhile, has lost ground nationally over the past few months.
Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani remains the leader in the GOP race, but the poll suggests that the surge in support he received after declaring his candidacy has stalled and that his backing of abortion rights and gay rights has caused more Republicans to turn away from him.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona runs second in the GOP race, but the poll results raise questions about his candidacy. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has spent millions on television ads already this year, has in some ways become an attractive alternative over the past few months, and former Sen. Fred D. Thompson of Tennessee shows the potential to quickly make the GOP contest a four-way battle.
The poll provides a revealing snapshot of the 2008 presidential race as the candidates gather this week for a pair of debates in New Hampshire, which will hold the first primary next year.