Nate Silver takes a close looks at primary polling. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, he finds that "national polls of primary voters — even this far out from the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary — do have a reasonable amount of predictive power in informing us as to the identity of the eventual nominee." In his second post on the subject, he outlines some basic principles:
First, the absence of a true frontrunner makes it easier for a dark-horse candidate to emerge — and that means not just a lesser-known name like Mitch Daniels, but also somebody whose chances are not being taken seriously at all so far. Second, though, the Republicans are not necessarily doomed in the general election just because their field looks weak right now: Mr. Carter did, after all, win the general election.
Then again, Mr. Carter won by only 2 points against Gerald Ford, an unelected vice president whose approval ratings spent most of their time in the low to mid-40s (and who barely survived a primary challenge).