There are some indications that the national trends may be more decisive than they have been in the past. With public interest in the presidential campaign at dizzying levels, not just in the early-primary or caucus states where the candidates are concentrating their campaigns but throughout the nation, the opinions voters express in national polls are not nearly as ill-formed or tentative as in past elections.
With cable news channels covering the early running with breathless intensity, voters outside the early states are forming definite opinions, often quite contrary to those which predominate in the early state polls. Since at least 10 states have moved their primaries up to Feb. 5 and most are likely to follow, it would stand to reason that this year voters are concentrating on the choices earlier than they have in previous years, so the national polls may mean more than they have in the past.
The Romney leads, for example, may just be due to heavy early media spending in the hopes of getting something started in Iowa and New Hampshire. McCain’s strength in South Carolina might be due to residual memories of his valiant campaign there in 2000. When the big guns — Hillary, Obama and Giuliani — concentrate on the early states, they may assume the same lead there that they have throughout the country.
Or... the local leads current polls predict could be decisive. The front-runners in the early polls in the early states could consolidate their hold and win, upsetting and dramatically changing the national picture.
My bet is that the national will trump the local. Just as Howard Dean's edge in Iowa and New Hampshire vanished when the national media closed in and broadcast a steady diet of negative attacks (orchestrated by the leadership of the Democratic Party), so the national front-runners will likely impose their leads on the early states. But this year is clearly sui generis, and anything can happen.