The Republican primary is not decided by a national popular vote and more people probably care more about the start of football season at this point in time than the GOP presidential field.
Regardless, national polls impact and shape the national conversation and, to a similar extent, influence where the “smart money” goes and which candidates insiders want to support.
In addition, national polls give a good snapshot of a candidate’s name identification and favorability among a large swath of Republicans. So, for those reasons, they matter more than they should.
In the most recent national poll, conducted by CNN and Opinion Research, Rick Perry leads with 27 percent and is followed by Mitt Romney with 14 percent. Sarah Palin is third at 10 percent and Michele Bachmann is at nine percent along with Rudy Giuliani. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are at six percent.
In every national poll since August 15, as Real Clear Politics notes, Perry has been in the lead.
In the coming weeks, how Perry and Romney react to these polls will let us know how strong they perceive their respective campaigns to be.
If Perry stays above the fray and refrains from attacking Romney, it will show that his campaign feels that the numbers that show him in the lead are legit. On the other hand, if Perry goes on the attack against Romney, it may show that these numbers are not as strong as they look on paper.
Similarly, if Romney’s team views Perry’s lead as something that has a “flavor of the month” quality to it, they will continue their strategy of being above the fray and focusing Romney’s attention on President Barack Obama. In this sense, Romney would be like a sports team that knows it is superior to its opponent, even when the opponent jumps out to a big lead.
On the other hand, if Romney aggresively attacks Perry, it will show that Romney’s team feels Perry has indeed passed him as the frontrunner.
With two debates on the national stage immediately after Labor Day weekend, it will be interesting to see the interactions between Romney and Perry, two candidates who just happen to not like each other very much to begin with.