At this stage in the campaign, approximately six months before the first primaries, eventual nominees have traditionally been among the top three or four candidates in the polls, as Nate Cohn has noted.
But if it’s usually important for a candidate to be among the leaders, it’s virtually irrelevant who is the actual leader. Early polls often reflect name recognition more than anything else. Donald Trump, for instance, has come in first or second in a number of recent national polls of G.O.P. candidates, but he’s hardly a top-tier candidate.
What should you pay attention to instead of polls? Endorsements. Political science research suggeststhat endorsements from party elites are better predictors than polls of who will win the presidential nomination. First, these officials can help candidates win by rallying supporters to their side and providing financial and organizational assistance. In addition, party elites observe the contenders closely and can often anticipate which candidates are most likely to be successful.
Historically, front-runners start to pull away in the endorsement race at this point. Mrs. Clinton is doing just that; she stands out as the most dominant Democratic candidate in the contemporary era. By contrast, almost all the action is yet to come for Republicans.