Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Ben Carson takes the lead in the polls, but does it even matter?

Donald Trump no longer leads the GOP primary.

The Real Clear Politics average this morning shows Ben Carson has nosed into first place by 1 percentage point, pushing The Donald into second place for the first time since July 19. Individual polls still show a mixed bag, so we could see some back and forth in the coming days and weeks. But one of Trump's main selling points -- I'm winning! Vote for a winner!-- has taken a big hit.

Looking at the trend lines over the past six months, a few other things jump out at me. One is the drop-off for both Carly Fiorina and Jeb Bush, who have lost significant portions of their support over the past five weeks. Another is just how steady Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have been in both their levels of support and positions in the field. Both senators are more or less in the same spot today as they were six months ago, which may suggest their underlying bases of support are pretty steady. What's more, both men have been on a consistent upward trajectory since the first debate on Aug. 6. There just may be something to the emerging conventional wisdom that Rubio and Cruz will be the last two Republicans standing.

Then again, the conventional wisdom has been pretty spectacularly wrong throughout this campaign. And in other campaigns, as well.

One of the big story lines from Tuesday's elections is the surprise victory for Republican Matt Bevin in Kentucky's gubernatorial election. Check out the highlighted section of this National Journal story in the following tweet:

That is indeed pretty incredible. Just five weeks ago, Bevin lost his super PAC support via the Republican Governors Association. The RGA got back into the race late , but that's a pretty good indication that Bevin was seen as a highly unlikely winner.

Which makes him the latest in a string of unlikely winners, in races that opinion polls utterly failed to capture accurately. Recall last year's primary upset of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia, who held overwhelming poll leads. Then there were the polls that suggested Georgia was going to get one if not two statewide runoffs for governor and senator, when the Republicans in each race in fact won with virtually the same margins as in statewide races four years earlier. It isn't just in low-turnout, U.S. elections: The British and Israeli electorates are among those to defy the pollsters this year, in elections that saw high turnout.

The question is why the polls are getting it wrong, and how widespread a problem this is. Given that the surprise winners lately have come from the right, will pollsters correct (or over-correct) in that direction, leading to surprises from the left and center? Do the Trump and Carson poll successes suggest pollsters are getting more in tune with voters on the right, or are their performances overstated because pollsters still don't know how to forecast the electorate? And will the relative scarcity of state-level races -- where presidential nominees are decided, after all -- mean we're in for big surprises next winter and spring?

Beware anyone who offers definitive answers to those questions. We appear to be in uncharted territory.

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.