Even though it is in its early days, the GOP sweepstakes for the presidential nomination appears to be a battle that George Orwell would love.
In “Animal Farm,” his famous satire of political hopes and dashed expectations, Orwell (whose real, though less well-known, name was Eric Blair) posits a revolution by animals seizing control of a farm. Idealistic equality quickly degenerates into the politically more practical “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
Something similar could be said of the GOP contenders being mentioned as possible presidential candidates: All candidates may be theoretically equal this early, but polls show that four: Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich, are bunched in the top tier while another dozen or so possibilities bring up the rear.
The latest Gallup survey released Friday places Huckabee first at 19%, Romney with 15%, Palin with 12% and Gingrich at 10%. With a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, the order is still a photo finish.
A survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press this week gave a slightly different order but still a fairly tight cluster: Romney 21%, Huckabee 20%, Palin 13%, and Gingrich 11%.
It is not unusual for polls to differ since the methodologies and sample size often vary. But both polls agree that there is a top group with no clear front-runner. Neither is being in the top tier a guarantee of success (or being in the second tier a guarantee of failure) since the rest of the field accounts for almost half of those surveyed, according to Gallup, and about a third, according to Pew.
The inevitable shakeout is certain to shake up the standings.
Indeed, according to Gallup, Palin and Romney have dropped since a September poll, while Huckabee has steadily, though slowly, gained. Without Huckabee, Romney moves into the lead with Palin a close second. If Palin chooses not to run, Huckabee’s lead over Romney jumps.
Huckabee and Palin have yet to announce their intentions. Nor has Romney announced, but he has been running hard during this shadow phase of the election, a phase that is drawing to a close as the pace of campaigning accelerates. Gingrich has formed a committee to raise money but has not made a formal announcement of his intentions.