I just want to endorse every word of Tim Lee’s post on primary punditry:
[C]heck out the graph of the Iowa prediction markets during the last presidential race. At this point in the 2003 cycle, the leading candidate was Howard Dean, with a 33% chance of getting the nomination. Next came Wesley Clark at 28%, then John Kerry at 16%, and John Edwards was considered such a longshot that he was lumped into the “other” category with only a 1% chance of getting the nomination. Hillary Clinton was given about the same odds Al Gore is this year: 10%.
Things looked even crazier a month later. Howard Dean had soared to 62%, Hillary Clinton (not even an announced candidate) was second with 12%, and Clark and Gephardt were third and fourth with about 10% each. The eventual first and second place winners in Iowa, Kerry and Edwards, had less than 10% between them. A month after that, on December 14, Dean was beating kerry 72% to 2.6%, with Clark in a solid second place at 10%. Obviously, that’s not how things ended up.
I think that should help us get some perspective on the current prices, which in my experience mirror the pundit conventional wisdom: Clinton’s at 68%, Obama at 14%, and Edwards at 5%, with other candidates (presumably Gore and Richardson) combined at 13%. Based on past experience, the answer pundits should give when asked who will win the Democratic nomination (or the Republican nomination, for that matter) is “I have no idea.” That will continue to be true for the rest of this year and probably right up until the first primaries are held.
The simple fact of the matter is that the only people paying attention at this point are pundits and political junkies. I’m sure that every volunteer for every campaign you’ll talk to will say the same thing: that nine out of ten of the people they talk to are completely undecided and think it’s too early to even think about it. That’s the kind of sentiment that leads to 87% undecided rates. And any election where 87% of voters are undecided is up for grabs.
One other note: for all this discussion about Clinton’s inevitability, it’s rarely noted just how rarely frontrunners win the Democratic nomination. Since the advent of the modern Iowa-NH system in 1972, only twice (1984 and 2000) has the clear non-incumbent frontrunner at the beginning of the race won. George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, and John Kerry all started out far behind. Of those, only Carter and Kerry won Iowa; McGovern and Clinton didn’t even win the New Hampshire primary. It’s true that there’s a severe early-leader bias in the Republican primaries, but in Democratic primary history only the VP for a massively popular two-term president and a man possessing what the NY Times called “the most commanding lead ever recorded in a presidential nominating campaign by a non-incumbent” have been able to parlay frontrunner status into primary victory, and even Walter Mondale barely squeaked by after getting a good thrashing from Gary Hart. The fact of the matter is that a Clinton victory would be a historical exception; that doesn’t make it impossible, but it makes it less than likely.