By JIm Ellis
Aug. 17, 2016 — The Commission on Presidential Debates has now provided more specific criteria pertaining to who will be invited to participate in the four presidential and vice presidential debates that are scheduled to begin Sept. 26.
Long ago, the commission members decided that the main qualification for national debate series participation is an arbitrary standing derived from a number of previously undetermined political surveys. Earlier reports indicated that only candidates obtaining 15 percent popular support as determined from the designated polls would be included.
Yesterday, in little way of surprise, the commission members announced that the official debate polls will be: ABC News/ Washington Post, CBS News/New York Times, CNN/Opinion Research, Fox News and NBC News/Wall Street Journal.
These polls, all using the same methodology in terms of sample size – normally around the 1,000 registered voter mark nationally – will likely continue to produce similar numbers. Therefore, it will be very difficult for Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, and almost impossible for Green Party candidate Jill Stein, to consistently reach the 15 percent plateau.
First, it is well known that one of the few things Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and the major media will agree upon is limiting the debate to the two major party participants. Thus, choosing only the major media pollsters should help produce a final conclusion that finds only Clinton and Trump qualifying.
Second, by eliminating the big sample and regular pollsters (Survey Monkey, YouGov, Morning Consult, Public Policy Polling), those that are in the field continually (Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California, Rasmussen Reports, Morning Consult), the regular university pollsters (USC, Quinnipiac, Monmouth, Suffolk, Franklin Pierce), other media pollsters (LA Times, Bloomberg/Selzer, Ipsos/Reuters, Investors Business Daily/TIPP), and even the major media’s sampling partners (YouGov (CBS), Survey Monkey (NBC)), a different picture of the electorate could well be formulated.
Since June 1 (through Aug. 14) 80 different polls have been publicly released from 23 different survey research firms, universities, or media outlets. Together, they show eight different lead changes between Clinton and Trump, along with three ties. From these 80 national studies, Johnson receives an average of 8.6 percent support (with a high of 13 percent); “other”, which generally means Dr. Stein but not exclusively, receives an average 5.2 percent support (68 of the 80 polls included this category); while an average of 9.0 percent were recorded as undecided. Thus, an aggregate average of more than 20 percent are so far not choosing either Clinton or Trump.
From the designated pollsters (the five major media groups), the results are quite different. Looking at the 80 surveys conducted between June 1 and Aug. 14, 16 came from the five major media pollsters. Confining our average results just to them, as apparently the Presidential Debate Commission leadership will, Johnson would ironically fare a bit better, with an average showing of 10.7 percent, but the Stein/Other category and the self-identified undecideds are much lower. The Stein grouping scores only 4.7 percent, while those yet to make a decision dropped over two and one-half points to 6.6 percent.
Third, it is important to consider that a certain percentage of those in the undecided category will eventually break for Johnson and/or Stein, but those calculations will not be added to either’s debate qualifying total.
Fourth, the fact that Johnson is the only candidate besides Clinton and Trump who has qualified for the ballot in all 50 states is a major point that the commission overlooks. Though he will not win the election, Johnson, a former two-term governor of New Mexico and his running mate, Bill Weld, a two-term ex-Massachusetts governor, will certainly have an effect upon the final outcome and, for this reason alone, should be included in the debates. Dr. Stein has so far qualified in 27 states and may well add another 17 states to this list.
The Presidential Debates Commission is co-chaired by former President Bill Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry and ex-Republican National Committee chairman Frank Fahrenkopf. Among the organization’s Board of Directors are former Sens. John Danforth (R-MO) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), ex-Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), and ex-news anchors Charlie Gibson and Jim Lehrer.