In race for GOP nomination, expect anything
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As we head into the holiday season, keep in mind one thing about polls in the presidential race: They change — and by the time voters start voting Feb. 1, 2016, they can change dramatically. That doesn't mean today's top candidates will sink to the bottom, or today's bottom feeders will rise to the top, but it does mean big shifts can abruptly occur.

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Four years ago at this point in the GOP nomination contest, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) was leading former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney 37 percent to 22 percent in one national poll. Of course, Romney went on to win the nomination.

Twelve years ago at this time in the 2004 Democratic nomination battle, Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was leading the field in Iowa with 26 percent, followed by U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri with 22 percent, Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryBiden soars as leader of the free world The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - COVID-19 fears surround Thanksgiving holiday OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Kerry says Paris climate deal alone 'is not enough' | EPA halts planned Taiwan trip for Wheeler| EPA sued over rule extending life of toxic coal ash ponds MORE of Massachusetts with 9 percent and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina with 5 percent. A month later, Iowa voters scrambled the deck chairs, and Kerry won the state with 38 percent, followed by Edwards at 32 percent, Dean at 18 percent and Gephardt at 11 percent. Kerry was eventually nominated.

Things can change, and fast.

Voters view presidential elections through kaleidoscopes. At certain moments they focus, give it a turn — and then everything shifts. We've already seen that kaleidoscope turn a few times in the ongoing battle for the Republican nomination.

Now, the average of the two latest polls taken right before Tuesday's debate had Trump on top with 40 percent, followed by Texas Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzO'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz trade jabs over COVID-19 relief: People 'going hungry as you tweet from' vacation McSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol MORE at 15 percent, Florida Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - COVID-19 fears surround Thanksgiving holiday Rubio signals opposition to Biden Cabinet picks Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks MORE at 11 percent, Carson at 11 percent and Bush at 4 percent. Where it goes from here, nobody really knows.

Polls are pictures in time. As voters focus and refocus, numbers fluctuate. That doesn't mean polls are wrong, it only means events and minds change. Polls are not crystal balls.

Here's good advice for election handicappers: Don't get stuck in a December mindset about a race that may look very different by Valentine’s Day.

Remember the kaleidoscopes.

Faucheux is president of Clarus Research Group, a nonpartisan polling firm based in Washington. He's authored or edited seven books on politics and publishes Lunchtime Politics, a daily newsletter on polls.