Gallup's Obama-Hillary 2012 Primary Poll; Or, How to Invent News

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 30 2010 2:44 PM

Gallup's Obama-Hillary 2012 Primary Poll; Or, How to Invent News

The new Gallup poll on a potential 2012 Democratic presidential primary comes with a warning:

As is the case for the 2012 Republican nomination ,voter sentiments at this stage of the 2012 election cycle have lowpredictive validity. In late 2006, for example, Gallup polls showedthat Clinton led Obama as the choice of Democrats for their party's nomination, and Rudy Giuliani was tied with John McCain for the Republican nomination (Giuliani pulled further ahead of McCain through most of 2007).

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Translation: "Our poll will tell you as much about who'll be the Democratic nominee as a 'Will It Blend' iPad video tells you about how quickly apps will load." But here it is! Barack Obama leads his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, by a 15-point margin in a ballot test, 52-37. Stuff that would have been useful for Gallup to point out; the most successful (and still failed) challenges to incumbent presidents in recent history, in 1976 and 1980, began with polls showing challengers actually beating the incumbents. In 1979, Ted Kennedy had a monstrous lead over Jimmy Carter until the hostage crisis began and gave Carter a bounce. This poll shows the president leading the incredibly popular secretary of state -- approval ratings up to 20 points higher than his -- by a safe margin, at a political nadir.

So get ready to hear cable news talk about how this poll demonstrates doom for Barack Obama.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.