The further back you go, the less early coverage you get.
“Not too many decades ago, speculation about the nominees was thought to be premature even in January of the election year,” says Robert Erikson, a political scientist at Columbia University who wrote a book about the changing timelines of presidential campaigns.
It’s easy to blame the media for becoming enchanted by a far-off event and early polling that’s proven to be pretty worthless as an electoral predictor. There’s a rich history of journalists taking themselves to task for premature speculation.
Just a month after Bill Clinton won reelection, Weekly Standard writer Andrew Ferguson grumbled on a CNN segment about the 2000 election that “we should all be taken out and shot for discussing presidential politics this early.” But he added an important corollary that is even truer today than it was then: “The thing is, you can’t help it because the candidates themselves are already out there raising money, trying to put staffs together and so, they’re making us talk about it.”
Indeed, the rules of the game—and especially campaign finance—have changed so much that candidates can’t sit on the sidelines the way they once could, so reporters pay attention.