Yesterday, Jennifer pointed to a Washington Post/ABC poll showing Rudy Giuliani with an 18-point lead (that becomes a 20-plus point lead if either Gingrich or McCain are not in the race). It is important to note, however, that we are seeing quite a deviation in some of these polls. Whether due to modeling differences or variations in methodology, some polls seem to be more favorable to certain candidates than others. For instance, in the Post/ABC polls dating back to last December, Giuliani has never dipped below 32 percent (once reaching a high of 44 percent in February) and Thompson’s highest was 14 percent (in the current poll). In the Rasmussen poll, however, Thompson actually has a 26-21 lead over Giuliani, with Rudy having been stuck in the 20s since early May. And Rasmussen’s tendency to have polls more favorable to Thompson and less favorable to Giuliani extends beyond national polling. In Florida, a Rasmussen poll shows Thompson within 1 point of Giuliani while a Quinnipiac poll taken around the same time shows Rudy 12 points ahead of Thompson.
What to make of all of this? In my view, based on looking at a broad number of polls, Giuliani seems to have a statistically significant lead at this time, with Fred Thompson trailing, and John McCain hanging on to a certain base of loyal supporters. Mitt Romney, who still hasn’t broken through nationally, has enjoyed statistically significant leads in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire, though he still underperforms in South Carolina. Though I still believe as I have all along that Giuliani will emerge as the nominee, there are still a lot of wildcards in the race. Will Thompson sink or swim once he finally jumps in the water? Will Romney’s strength in early states hold once other candidates begin paid advertising (as Giuliani did this week)? And if so, will he be able to gain enough momentum with early victories to win nationally? Will Gingrich get in and shake up the race? Will John McCain defy the naysayers and make an epic comeback? Will Ron Paul ride a wave of enthusiastic Internet commenters all the way to the White House? In the meantime, I view polls at this point as I do baseball standings early in the season, with certain candidates better positioned than others to make the playoffs, where anything can happen.