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Wastefulness of the early presidential campaign

US voters haven't decided yet, so the media's focus on polling data is both pointless and distorting.

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In the first 100 days of 2007, the big field of Republican and Democratic candidates running for president collectively spent more than $50 million campaigning, made hundreds of stump speeches in Iowa and New Hampshire, and endured several nationally televised debates. Too bad so much of it will prove meaningless.

Don't get us wrong – an awful gaffe at this stage could be deadly, and there's no question that early money is crucial. But let's be honest. The absurdly early start of this primary season has a lot more to do with entertaining bored political elites than with persuading actual primary voters.

It is reminiscent of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle we all heard about in high school physics class. Professor Werner Heisenberg postulated that "the more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known."

Applied to the presidential race, this suggests that the more we measure how the candidates stand now, the less we may know about where things are going to end up – because the measurement itself can render the findings inaccurate.

The noisy onslaught of public opinion polling in the media so early in the process would amuse the good professor, because the numbers are really little more than a vain attempt to measure something that hasn't happened. Although the political and media elites may think the campaign is in full swing, with the fortunes of each candidate rising and falling with every new poll, the truth is that voters – the ones who are really going to decide this race – don't start the campaign until much later.

Because voters are not required to make a decision until Election Day, they remain open at this stage to new information, alternative perspectives, and late-breaking developments – all of which render today's poll results, to one degree or another, meaningless.

Consider this: More than two-thirds of the Democrats who voted in the 2004 Iowa caucuses didn't decide whom to vote for until a month before the caucuses. Four in 10 decided in the last week. In 2004, 54 percent of New Hampshire Democrats decided within a week of the primary. It's no surprise, then, that in the 2004 election, John Kerry was lagging in third place until only a few weeks before the Iowa caucuses. Senator Kerry then more than doubled his vote in Iowa and nearly quadrupled it in New Hampshire – all in less than 20 days.


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