When I was a teenager I was struck by this wisecrack: there are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies ... and statistics.
Let's extrapolate that and just insert the word "polls" instead of "statistics."
There is no more misleading thing in politics today than polls, particularly those that are conducted more than three months before a primary or general election.
Why? Because we have seen what happens to the front runner again and again.
In the recent GOP presidential primary, Rick Perry was thought to be an early favorite until he actually went on television and had a hard time recalling the names of three agencies he would abolish in government.
Remember Herman Cain? The polls at one point showed him as the favorite for the GOP nomination, until he sank faster than a lead balloon.
New York City mayoral history is littered with early front runners who stumbled and fell on their way to the finish line.
In 2001, the reasonably well-known Speaker of the City Council, Peter Vallone, Sr., was an early favorite in the race for Mayor.
In the September Primary, Vallone wound up finishing third, behind Fernando Ferrer and Mark Green.
In 2005, Council Speaker Gifford Miller was the leader in fundraising and looked to be the strongest challenger to former Bronx Borough President Freddy Ferrer. Miller's run floundered and he was overtaken by a scrappy Congressman from Brooklyn, Anthony Weiner, who eventually lost to Ferrer.
Miller, the Council Speaker, suffered an even worse fate than his predecessor, Vallone, finishing last in the primary with just ten percent of the vote.
Now the early polls for 2013 are out (16 months before the primary!) and another Council Speaker with lots of campaign dough and high name recognition leads the pack. Christine Quinn polled recently at 32 percent (in a field of six where I polled last).
Will Quinn fall prey to the recent curse of the Council Speakers of the last 12 years? Will the reign of Manhattan-based Mayors continue for the 35th consecutive year (thus making Bill DeBlasio a longshot)?
Right now, it is much too early to even begin to speculate on this. The city and country will be focused on the presidential election for the next six months while the prospective 2013 Mayoral candidates jockey for campaign cash and endorsements.
Then comes the holiday season. It won't be until early 2013 before this city begins to listen to the ideas, vision and experience of the Mayoral candidates. There will be twists and turns in the electoral road; mud will be slung and gotcha moments exposed by the hungry New York press corps.
There will hopefully be many debates where the candidates can differentiate themselves and explain their vision for making New York a more prosperous and livable place for all.
But don't be fooled by the early polls and their ability to predict who will win.
I know polling quite well. I worked in the NBC polling unit many years ago and learned firsthand about their fallibility. I also learned then and later as a journalist that polls are merely a snapshot in time. Even exit polls on election day can be suspect (Just ask "President Dewey.")
The only "poll" that matters in New York City will be the one taken on Election Day, November 5th, 2013 -- more than 18 months from now.
Eighteen months is a lifetime in politics.
Eighteen months ago, the heavy favorite to be the next Mayor of New York was Anthony Weiner.
You could look it up.
Just check out the polls.
Tom Allon is a Liberal and Democratic candidate for Mayor in 2013. His first part-time job in high school, in 1979, was in the polling unit of NBC News.
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