In race for GOP nomination, expect anything
© Getty Images

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.


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 KerryJohn Kerry: Pressley's story 'more American than any mantle this president could ever claim' Schumer to donate Epstein campaign contributions to groups fighting sexual violence Trump threatens Iran with increased sanctions after country exceeds uranium enrichment cap 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 CruzTed Cruz: 'Fox News went all in for Trump' 2 Republican senators introduce resolution to label antifa as domestic terrorists Ted Cruz: Trump's chances of winning reelection are '50-50' MORE at 15 percent, Florida Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioAna Navarro lashes out at Rubio for calling outrage over Trump's 'go back' tweet 'self righteous' US-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' Media cried wolf: Calling every Republican a racist lost its bite 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.