Comparing 2011 Polls to 2007 Polls is Wrong
Various sages tell us current polls on the GOP presidential don't mean much, because at this time during the 2008 contest, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson were leading the national polls, yet neither of them came close to winning the nomination. For example, the poll average of October 1, 2007. Back then, Rudy Giuliani was leading with almost 28% of the Republican vote; Fred Thompson held more than 22% of the party faithful; John McCain retained 14% of the potential primary goers; and Mitt Romney was fourth with nine percent support.
But I think comparing early October 2011 to early October 2007 is mistaken. Here is why:
1) Rudy Giuliani placed his nomination bet on only one winner-take-all state, Florida. This meant that if he lost that state after of course losing the first four states, his campaign would be over; exactly that happened to him. This time around however, neither of the current front runners, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, are doing anything of this sort. They are trying to gain wins in all of the early states, thus not placing all their money in one bank account.
2) Florida this time around is not a winner-take-all state to the Republican National Convention, nor is any of the states holding primaries before April. Therefore, winning or losing one or a few of the first five-ten states, may have a different meaning this time around than what it had four years ago where losing a big state like Florida meant zero delegates in one's account.
3) Fred Thompson set up an Exploratory Committee in early June 2007. This gave him the option to raise money for a campaign yet to avoid most of the scrutiny that official candidates get. Thompson announced his run early September 2007, approximately three weeks before the above October polls. Anyone with a known name officially announcing a race can hold a lead for three weeks. Just ask Rick Perry. The issue becomes where the candidate is a while down the road: How is he/she at debates? Is she/he raising funds to propel the campaign to the next stage and to show viability?
Thompson at this time in 2007 was not forced to debate his opponents, while Perry stood and perhaps failed at three debates, yet he is still strong in national polls. Thompson raised $12 million from early June all through the end of September (a stretch of four months), yet the expectation is that Perry raised at least $10 million in a period of six weeks, including the last week of September that was a PR disaster for him.
With Giuliani and Thompson in 2007 clearly having short comings that Perry and Romney do not appear to have now in 2011 (i.e. hedging on one state; not raising enough money), the 2008 race went to the candidates who polled third and fourth by early October 2007: John McCain and Mitt Romney. Those two were the last men standing in the contest.
Fast forward to the current race, anything can indeed happen, but merely pointing at the current polls versus the polls of four years ago at this time, not only does not predict a massive change going forward. To the contrary, it shows precedent that those who are strong now will likely continue to battle it out while others will slowly drop out of the race.