2016 presidential polls pretty pointless right now

As of this writing, there are more than 21 months until the next election for president on Nov. 8, 2016. Yet to no one’s surprise, there’s no shortage of polling data for political pundits to sift through.

Clarification: There’s no shortage of opportunities for pollsters to get paid for polling, and for pundits to get paid for pontificating.

A new “Swing State” poll from Quinnipiac University of voters in Colorado, Iowa, and Virginia paints a fairly close race between former Democratic Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. She beats other possible GOP candidates, by a tad more, and Clinton doesn’t top 50 percent. OMG OMG — Clinton must be vulnerable.

But wait! Other polls paint a totally different picture. The latest polls by Public Policy Polling show that Rand Paul is on the way down and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is rising. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is up there, too, along with conservative activist and frequent Fox News guest Dr. Ben Carson. Three PPP polls within the last month (three! In the winter of 2015!) show those three potential candidates on top.

Confused yet? A CBS poll asks self-identified Republicans whom they would consider voting for, and voters give Bush and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee the top spots, followed by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. But New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie seems to be toast — 43 percent of GOP voters say they wouldn’t vote for him. The key takeaway from that poll is that “more than half of Republicans nationwide don’t know enough” about several potential candidates to express an opinion.

I realize that I’m going out on a limb here, but maybe journalists should do stories about the possible candidates and their accomplishments, histories, views, and plans instead of running story after story about who’s up and who’s down in the latest polls. It’s true that no one has declared or even formed an exploratory committee, thus allowing them to rake in as much money as they can right now, but people might want some specifics, especially if they’re stuck at home in the cold. Just a suggestion.

Politico has a special 2016 elections page just for political junkies, political consultants looking for customers, and journalists desperate for something to write about. It’s updated fairly frequently — several times a day — also by reporters who can’t think of anything more important to cover. There were 13 different 2016 election news stories just yesterday. And that’s with nearly 650 days to go before election day.

What does any polling show now besides name recognition and party affiliation of those being polled? Not much — if anything at all. Remember who won the Ames Straw Poll in 2011, as Iowa Republicans picked over potential GOP candidates much as they would examine an ear of sweet corn? Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann. How’d she do again? Oh, that’s right, she didn’t even run for re-election in 2014, no doubt fearing that she might lose.

No, this is all about the money. The Ames Straw Poll brings in riches to that state and the state party. Iowa Republicans voted to keep the straw poll because it’s a “cash cow,” according to a story in the Washington Post. Accompanying charts show that the winner of the straw poll has won the GOP nomination only twice since 1979, and that other candidates don’t even show up to campaign for meaningless votes, worrying that they might look bad. “In 2011, nearly 85 percent of the votes were won by Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Jon Hunstman, Thaddeus McCotter, and others who never won a state,” the Post story says.

But who did win? Iowa Republicans. The state party took in more than $1.5 million in 2011, before expenses — an important figure, as state parties nationwide struggle with fundraising.

Throughout the polling cycle in 2011 and 2012, an array of Republicans rose to the top and led polls in the GOP presidential race: Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, and finally Mitt Romney again. Michelle Bachmann never led. So much for the Iowa straw poll.

All of this poll-heavy and substance-free coverage leaves us with a disengaged electorate. According to the CBS story, “Fewer Americans are now paying attention to the presidential campaign compared to this point during the 2008 campaign, the last election in which an incumbent was not seeking re-election.”

Indeed, why should Americans pay attention, when all they get from the news media is horse race journalism?

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