According to a new Washington Post-ABC poll that ultimately means little, 73 percent of Democrats and left-leaning Independents would vote for Hillary Clinton in the presidential primary. That gives her a 61-point lead over Vice President Joe Biden, her closest competitor. The Post's Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan argue that the poll is "an affirmation of the conventional wisdom that the nomination is hers for the taking," but, really, it's just a poll two years before people start voting in primaries. It doesn't say a lot about what's going to happen in 2016, but it says something about what's happening now.
On the one hand, that seems like good news for Hillary — a December 2006 poll put her in first place with a much less impressive 22-point lead, with a little-known senator from Illinois in second place. In fact, if you go back as far as 1983, no one has ever been such a shoe-in for their Democratic nominee in a poll taken several years before an election.
But the Post's own 2006 data proves that polls this early are not very helpful. December 2006 was 23 months before the 2008 election, and (emphasis added):
Clinton has a clear head start over other prospective Democratic candidates, with Sen. Barack Obama(Ill.), who only a month ago expressed interest in the 2008 race, running second and former senator John Edwards (N.C.), the party's 2004 vice presidential nominee, in third.
We're currently 34 months ahead of the 2016 election. This should be obvious, but it's possible that someone will come out of the woodwork and steal Hillary's thunder. Again. Or, we could be looking at another scandal. As former 2016 Republican frontrunner Chris Christie has found, scandals matter more than old polls. Here's where he stands:
- 40 percent of those polled view him unfavorably
- 35 percent view him favorably (compared to Hillary's 58 percent)
- 46 percent think his bridge scandal is a sign of bigger problems
- If the election were held today, Clinton would beat Christie by 12 points (53 percent to 41 percent)
That's the January 2014 Washington Post-ABC poll.
- In mid-November 2013, a Quinnipac poll found Clinton and Christie virtually tied at 43 percent and 42 percent of the vote.
- A late November CNN poll found Christie at 24 percent of the vote and Ryan at 11 percent, behind Rand Paul.
Of course, the New Jersey governor has lots of time to turn things around.
What's more interesting is Paul Ryan's somewhat sudden 2016 ascent in the Republican Party. He has a very slim 2-point lead over Jeb Bush and a 7-point lead over Christie. Again, that doesn't predict the future so much as tell us something about what's happening today — Ryan has elevated his political status. In December, following his success with Sen. Patty Murray on the budget deal, The Wire noted that his 2016 buzz picked up dramatically. Last month Ryan also polled very well in Iowa, and Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast predicted that Ryan had managed to appease both the hard right and the establishment, but that that wouldn't register in poll success:
And he's not going to register, I shouldn't think, as they front-runner in the polls. But he's pulled something off here. He tends to be forgotten in '16 conversations for some reason. I doubt any longer.
He was half right. Again, that was about a month and a half ago. So while we don't recommend printing Ryan/Cruz 2016 pins (the Hillary 2016 pins already exist), Ryan will become a bigger part of the conversation, which has so far been dominated by Clinton and Christie. And that's the only thing these polls really prove — who matters now.