Flash back to the fall of 2007: former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is surging and seems sure to win the Republican nomination for president, setting up a showdown with the similarly dominant Democratic frontrunner, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.
And then neither New Yorker won.
A little known senator from Illinois named Barack Obama and an Arizona senator named John McCain – mere afterthoughts in September of 2007 – won the nominations. As we’ve seen for more than a decade, September polling giants may rule the headlines in the fall, but they have a long history of losing primary battles.
Now, 14 months away from the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton is slipping in the polls, with challenger Sen. Bernie Sanders surging close behind. Donald Trump is continuing his stratospheric summer rise, with Dr. Ben Carson right behind him. According to a CNN/ORC poll released this week, Trump is dominating the pack with as much as 32%, while Carson has jumped 10 points to reach second place with 19%. Late August polling saw Sanders shoot up to second place, with 29% of the vote in another CNN/ORC poll.
Trump constantly boasts of his polling successes but – as Giuliani and Clinton can attest – there’s still a long way to the ballot box in November.
Here’s who was winning the primary battles in September of the year before presidential elections, according to NBC News/Wall Street Journal polling, and here’s what happened after those early wins.
September 2011: Texas Gov. Rick Perry was soaring, with 38% of registered voters who were planning to vote in the Republican primary saying he was their top choice in a late August poll. Just 23% said the eventual nominee, Gov. Mitt Romney, was their first choice. Late in September, Perry made some controversially sympathetic remarks about illegal immigrants. In November, he forgot the third federal agency he planned to eliminate and his poll numbers tanked.
Just 40% of registered voters said they’d vote for President Obama again in polling from this time, yet 14 months later, he earned 51% of the popular vote.
September 2007: Fourteen months before the open election, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was dominating the Republican primary with 32% support from likely Republican primary voters, trailed by the former senator and “Law & Order” star Fred Thompson, who netted 26%. The eventual nominee, Sen. John McCain, had just 14% of primary voters’ support.
On the left, Hillary Clinton was dominating polls with 44% of Democratic primary voters. Her main challenger, Sen. Barack Obama, had 23% of the primary vote in September, but he’d slowly climb through national surveys until March of the next year, when they’d tie in the polls. By summer, he’d bested Clinton by double digits in the polls, leading her to end her campaign in June.
September 2003: A late September poll showed the Democratic field torn on who would challenge incumbent George W. Bush in his bid for reelection. Howard Dean led the pack with 17%, trailed closely by Gen. Wesley Clark and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman with 16% each.
The eventual nominee, Sen. John Kerry, had just 11% of the vote. And only 42% of voters said they’d vote for Bush if he ran for reelection, which he did in fact do, winning with 51% of the votes.