A mere 1,000 days from today, Americans will go to the polls to choose a new president. Potential candidacies are already being discussed, and polls about hypothetical primary races have been released.
A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll showed Hillary Rodham Clinton with an overwhelming lead among potential Democratic candidates. She led Vice President Biden 73% to 12% among Democratic respondents. The Republican field was much more tightly bunched, with 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan on top at 20% trailed by former Florida governor Jeb Bush at 18% and embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at 13%, among others.
Early polling in presidential campaigns is hardly a new phenomenon. But are these polls actually illuminating of the campaign to come, or are they just gauges of name recognition long before a race has even begun to take shape? OnPolitics looks back at the state of campaigns roughly 1,000 days prior to other recent presidential elections to see what the polls told us then — and what came to pass.
A large Republican field took aim at President Obama in 2012, but in early February 2010, roughly 1,000 days before the election, no one had exactly captured the imagination of Republican primary voters.
Eventual nominee Mitt Romney led a Gallup Poll taken Feb. 1-3, 2010, but with only 14% support among Republicans. Trailing him was Sarah Palin (the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee) at 11%, John McCain (the party's presidential nominee that year) at 7% and newly elected Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown at 4%; he had become a party favorite after he captured the Senate seat previously held by the late Ted Kennedy.
Romney would go on to capture the nomination, but the early snapshot did not capture the dynamics of the 2012 Republican primary campaign. Three of the top four in the poll wouldn't end up running.
The two candidates other than Romney who would go on to win primaries or caucuses in 2012, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, were afterthoughts in the early polling. Gingrich registered at 3% and Santorum wasn't mentioned.
A few candidates who were prominent in the 2012 race, if only briefly, including Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain, were not mentioned by respondents in the poll.
With no incumbent president or vice president on the ballot, the 2008 presidential campaign promised to invite a broad field of candidates. In February 2006, though, a front-runner had already emerged on the Democratic side.
In two polls from that month, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton held a commanding lead over potential rivals. In a CNN/USA TODAY/Gallup poll taken Feb. 9-12, Clinton garnered the support of 39% of Democrats, while 2004 nominee John Kerry was at 15%, 2000 nominee Al Gore was at 13%, and 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards tallied 12%. All other polled candidates were in single digits. A WNBC/Marist poll taken Feb. 13-15 brought similar findings with Clinton at 40%, Edwards at 16% and Kerry at 15%. Gore wasn't included.
Notably absent from both polls was the eventual winner of the 2008 presidential election, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.
On the Republican side, two possible candidates seemed to have command of the field 1,000 days out: former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and Arizona Sen. John McCain.
In a CNN/USA TODAY/Gallup poll from Feb. 9-12, 2006, Giuliani led with 33% and McCain registered at 28%. McCain and Giuliani would both end up running. McCain would ultimately capture the 2008 GOP nomination, while Giuliani proved unable to capitalize on the the goodwill and wide national profile he'd acquired in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, fizzling early in the primary process.
Beyond the top two in this poll, Virginia Sen. George Allen was at 7% and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was at 6%. Neither would run in 2008, and Allen's political career would be derailed in 2006 when he was defeated for re-election following a much-publicized incident in which he directed a derogatory term ("macaca") toward a volunteer of his Democratic opponent, Jim Webb.
Meanwhile, the two candidates who would emerge as McCain's toughest rivals for the nomination, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, were barely a blip on the polling radar in early 2006, as Romney garnered only 3% in the February poll, while Huckabee wasn't even listed.
President George W. Bush was near the height of his popularity 1,000 days before the 2004 election, with approval ratings hovering in the low 80s, according to Gallup. Politics had been largely on hold in the weeks after 9/11, but early snapshots of the potential Democratic presidential field began to emerge in early 2002.
Not surprisingly, the biggest name among potential candidates, former vice president Al Gore, led the field in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll taken Jan. 18-21.
Gore was the preference of 35% of Democrats and was trailed by former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley (who was the runner-up to Gore in the 2000 Democratic primaries), Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman (Gore's 2000 running mate) and Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, all at 9%.
Of those four, only Lieberman would run, but he ended his campaign in February 2004 after disappointing finishes in early primary and caucus states. His hawkish foreign policy didn't exactly resonate with Democratic primary voters.