Derek Mooney: Be warned, Gay - Adi was also an early poll topper...
IN the first major poll of the presidential race, the RedC Paddy Power poll, Gay Byrne has emerged as clear leader.
But he would do well to remember that early leads come with a major health warning from Irish presidential election history.
The first poll of the 1997 Aras race was conducted by IMS and published in the Sunday Independent about 40 days before polling (on September 21).
It showed the Labour party's candidate, Adi Roche, in a commanding lead with 38pc -- 10 points ahead of Uncle Gaybo's figure today.
On polling day, on October 30 she ended up on 7pc.
If things changed that much for her in 40 days, consider how much more they might change over the course of 76 days. The words 'sprint' and 'marathon' come to mind. Come to think of it, so does 'obstacle course'.
As with Uncle Gaybo, Adi's name had come into the fray as a bit of a surprise announcement just days before an opinion poll. The Irish Times poll; published 10 days later, had her on 22pc, behind McAleese (who polled 35pc in both polls).
I know the dangers of comparing polls from different polling companies with different samples. I also know that Adi's declining poll numbers followed a tough campaign.
The point I am making here is that any poll taken so far out from the actual polling day, particularly with some candidates yet to declare, is no indicator of how anyone might fare on the big day.
This applies to those at the top or the bottom of the poll. We may as well poll as to who will win the 2012 Eurovision in Azerbaijan (though it's a fair bet they'll be East European).
To put it in its crudest terms, this poll seems to me to simply reflect how well the public recognises the candidates' names, so far. I say this as the truth is that the Presidential campaign has not started yet.
Yes, there has been a lot of coverage over the past few weeks, but this has focused on particular individuals rather than the full slate.
Apart from a few short one-to-one interviews on the Pat Kenny radio show and his rather terrible Frontline debate where most of the potential candidates stayed away, there has been no opportunity to calmly judge the candidates' suitability.
The campaign proper in October will matter. By then we will know who is in the race or who is not. We will start to hear clear messages from each of them on why they are the right person to succeed President McAleese.
We will hear about their values and their thoughts on what the next seven years should bring.
We, the public, will be able to assess and review the candidates individually and collectively over that three to four weeks of intensive campaigning.
The last thing anyone wants or needs is an 11-week campaign. No-one's sanity, patience or tolerance could withstand 76 days of that.
So let us stay calm, wait to see who is in or out and all take a few deep breaths until late September when the race can begin in earnest.