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Why polls are ridiculous … until they’re not

Yippee. The Republican race is taking shape! The latest poll conducted by Connecticut’s Quinnipiac University says so.

There’s former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. There’s also Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. (I use their titles to help you keep them straight. As the race gets even more crowded, you will thank me for this.)

In the poll, each man clocks in at a mere 10 percent.

Not excited? Look deeper, people. When the Quinnipiac pollsters ask which Republican would run best against Democrat Hillary Clinton — all of a sudden Rand Paul and Rubio leap to the head of the pack.

A guest reaches for a flag pin at the Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) booth at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, February 28, 2015. CPAC closes after three days where thousands of conservative activists, Republicans and Tea Party Patriots gathered to hear politicians, presidential hopefuls, and business leaders speak, lobby and network for a conservative agenda, ahead of the presidential election in 2016. Photo by Mike Theiler/Reuters

A guest reaches for a flag pin at the Rand Paul booth at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. Photo by Mike Theiler/Reuters

And there’s more. When you look at the runners up — the candidate voters would most likely choose as a backup — Texas Senator Ted Cruz joins the popular kids.

For now, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, former business executive Carly Fiorina, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal score pretty dismally. Businessman Donald Trump actually comes in first — among voters who say there is “no way” they would vote for him.

And, hey, it could be worse. No one even asked about former New York Governor George Pataki, who is actually an announced candidate.

So many numbers to digest. If they’re lucky, ten of these candidates get to crowd onto a debate stage late this summer — a year in advance of the nominating convention — to elbow one another aside.

But here’s why it’s all so ridiculous.

We don’t have national primaries. Each of these candidates will have to slug it out state by state to even make it to their nominating convention. In the case of the crowded GOP field, they will have to slug it out state by state to even make it onto a debate stage.

This is why we have the spectacle of Fiorina popping up outside Clinton events to denounce a woman she is not even running against yet. Jesse James robbed banks because that’s where the money was; Fiorina stalks Hillary Clinton because that’s where the cameras are.

So it’s OK to read the polls. I do. But there is this caution. Ignore the horse race for now. Except to the degree it dictates chances for survival, it is ridiculous. People with deep pockets read those polls to make sure they are making a wise investment. And people who send cameras to cover press conferences do too. All of this dictates outcome. The rest of us can take a deep breath.

There is plenty of time to decide whether the polls — or the debates alone — will tell the story. Until then, read them — there will be many — but keep a grain of salt handy at all times.

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