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.


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 KerryPompeo announces Israeli settlements do not violate international law Deval Patrick's 2020 entry raises stakes in New Hampshire Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide 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 CruzOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Stopgap spending bill includes military pay raise | Schumer presses Pentagon to protect impeachment witnesses | US ends civil-nuclear waiver in Iran Cruz, Graham and Cheney call on Trump to end all nuclear waivers for Iran Pompeo: US ending sanctions waiver for site where Iran resumed uranium enrichment MORE at 15 percent, Florida Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioMcConnell urges Trump to voice support for Hong Kong protesters GOP senator introduces bill to limit flow of US data to China GOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week 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.