Gallup yesterday started running a daily national GOP nomination tracking poll. Ignore that poll!

Yes, I know, you’re going to peek at it, and I’m sure I will too. But we know how this works. People in California, and Texas, and New York, and everywhere else are going to be heavily influenced by the results of the early primaries and caucuses, and by the way the press interprets those events (which in turn is partially influenced by what elite GOP party actors say, but is also influenced by various press biases). Meanwhile, the national polls have little effect on what happens right now.

So if you ignore them, you don’t miss their predictive power (because it’s so small) and you don’t miss their current importance (because it’s also tiny).

What it’s certainly time to do, however, at this point is to start watching the Iowa and New Hampshire polls. That Newt is up in Iowa at this point doesn’t mean he’ll necessarily win — his lead isn’t that large, and his support is soft — but it certainly shapes the race for now, and the outcome in Iowa matters for New Hampshire, and the two of them matter for the next steps.

Everyone should just remind himself that candidates who don’t do well in the early states just completely collapse nationally — see, for example, Rudy Giuliani 2008. And candidates who are at zilch nationally and then score in Iowa and/or New Hampshire can wind up with great national numbers almost overnight. Especially when, as is the case this year, everyone’s support (except perhaps Ron Paul’s) is incredibly soft.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.