Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The 2012 Iowa caucus is exactly three weeks from today, and the common conception is that, based on national polling, the entire race has already come down to just two candidates: Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.Yet in the past 40 years, so-called ‘frontrunners’ in national polling with less than a month to go before the first nominating contest have gone on to get the party nod only 50% of the time.
Of the 14 contested primaries since Gallup began polling them in 1972 — that is, discounting the few years in which incumbent presidents received hopeless primary challenges — the leading candidate in national polling three weeks from Iowa has gone on to win the nomination only seven times. In one case, the eventual nominee polled at just 3% nationally at this point in his race.
The following charts reflect the results of Gallup polls conducted roughly three weeks before the Iowa caucuses. This year’s second-tier candidates should take heart in what they reveal.
1972 Democratic Primary: Muskie and Humphrey start off way out front, only to be destroyed by the incredible organising of the upstart McGovern campaign.
1976 Democratic Primary: Jimmy Carter was in 8th place at this point in 1976, but scored huge upset wins in Iowa and New Hampshire en route to winning the nomination over more well-known candidates.
1988 Democratic Primary: Michael Dukakis comes through as the last candidate standing when top-tier rivals implode and no one else can catch up.
1992 Democratic Primary: Bill Clinton defeated popular California Governor Jerry Brown in a small field devoid of any true big-name candidates.
2004 Democratic Primary: The Dean Scream upends the field, and Kerry rides the momentum from stunning early victories to the nomination.
2008 Democratic Primary: Clinton posted a huge early lead, but Obama edges her and Edwards to win Iowa, thus positioning himself for the first time as a truly legitimate candidate.
2008 Republican Primary: Giuliani topped national polls for months, but fell apart once voting began. McCain resurrected his campaign and vaulted from a tie with Romney and Fred Thompson (yes, the Law and Order guy) to win out in the end.
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