“Hillary will clinch the nomination.”
“Clinton remains the favorite.”
“Clinton is the front-runner for the Democrats.”
Why even bother having primaries, right? Even before the former first lady declared her candidacy, the media gave her a collection of titles like “front-runner” and “likely nominee.”
And after her debate performance, it seems those nicknames just get used more and more nicknames get used. And it’s very easy to look at the news and just write it off that Clinton will be the Democratic nomination for the White House.
But we’ve been there before.
There was an electric buzz regarding Clinton’s presidential ambitions. She was leading in all the polls by huge numbers. She had a full schedule of speeches and rallies. Nothing could stand in her way. Her only competition was a few nobodies that couldn’t come close to her energy and experience, and a virtually unknown senator with a funny name. I’m not talking about Bernie Sanders. I’m talking about Barack Obama.
It’s always amusing when the media tries to predict election outcomes. They aren’t always wrong, but they are sometimes very wrong. No matter how the numbers look, no matter good the analyses are, there is still a very big unknown factor. We’ve seen this in presidential elections time and again. The election of 1980 was predicted up to the last minute to be a super close race. The Associated Press reported: “As the 1980 presidential campaign moves to a close, national polls say the race between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan is too close to call.” In actuality, Reagan won with 489 electoral votes to Jimmy Carter’s 49—the third biggest margin of victory in presidential history.
One of the most infamous photos of presidents is that of Harry Truman holding up The Chicago Daily Tribune, painted with the headline “Dewey defeats Truman,” in the election of 1948. The media didn’t even wait for official election results before printing their predictions of a certain victor. And Truman won by more than 100 electoral votes. Most recently, in the final days of the 2012 campaign, the top headlines were filled with “Obama and Romney in dead heat” and “Another 2000?” when Obama won with more than 100 electoral votes.
And if we can get the general elections that wrong, what about the primaries? It wasn’t so long ago when we last heard Clinton being called the “likely Democratic nominee.” All of the political polls showed her way ahead of this Obama character.
And then Iowa happened—the very first contest in any presidential election. Obama won the state’s caucus race—in a nearly all white state—by big numbers. It was a surprise to many. But then he won the primary in New Hampshire, then South Carolina, and all of the Southern states except Florida. All of a sudden, Clinton’s likely nominee status turned into a hotly challenged race, which then turned into Obama as the likely nominee. And we all know how that story ends.
Are Obama and Bernie Sanders the same person? Of course not. Is today’s country the same it was in 2008? Of course not. But one cannot help but notice Sanders slightly growing in the areas that eventually trademarked Obama’s campaign—very large crowds and a large support of young people, to name a few.
And it’s not just with the Democrats that we see this. When Jeb Bush threw his hat in the ring, he was instantly Clinton’s equal—the “front-runner” and “favorite” for the Republican Party. Then what happened? Donald Trump walked in banging the door down and suddenly all the latest polls had him at the top. And he’s still there.
But even then, polls are just polls, a very loose system of measuring popularity. It’s impossible for the media or anyone to correctly predict the end results. With the general election still more than a year away and the entire primary process to go through, there’s a lot of time for a lot to happen.
Luckily, it is the people, and not the media, that determine elections. And they’re pretty good at getting it right.
Luke Parsnow is a copy editor and page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88