Using national “if the election were today” polling numbers to determine debate slots is the dumbest idea since the now-deceased NCAA Bowl Championship Series.
Here’s an example why—from New York Magazine: “Poll Numbers Improving for 15-Year-Old Presidential Candidate ‘Deez Nuts’”
A new Public Policy Polling poll released today shows that 9 percent of North Carolina voters have a sense of humor or are already tired of the election; when asked whether they would vote for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, or independent candidate Deez Nuts in November 2016, 9 percent chose the questionably named underdog. That means that Deez Nuts, who announced his campaign last month, is currently in fourth place behind “Not Sure.”
In a recent PPP poll in Minnesota, Nuts got 8 percent of the vote; in Iowa, the candidate got 7 percent.
According to the North Carolina poll, fewer people approve of the candidate than would vote for him. Six percent of voters have a favorable opinion of the candidate, while 81 percent of voters aren’t sure what to think. No polling firms have devoted much time to find out what voters think of the many other dozens of presidential candidates running this year, including independent Sydneys Voluptuous Buttocks, Crawfish B. Crawfish, and Democratic cats Limberbutt McCubbins and Buddy the Cat.
That’s right, Deez Nuts would be in the debate if he were running in the GOP.
I know, I know—the field is crowded and there’d be no room for a nobody joke candidate like Mr. Nuts, whose real name is Brady Olson, a teen from Wallingford, Iowa. But it’s no joke that people vote in voting booths, and look at polls as a means to express an opinion, not necessarily support a candidate.
All the polling in the world doesn’t amount to a hill of beans (or a jar of corn) until two things happen: (1) we’re closer timewise to an actual election or caucus, and (2) we focus only on the state(s) having those elections.
So polls showing Donald Trump ahead of Hillary Clinton by 2 points in Florida are rather meaningless, given that 21 states will vote or have a caucus before Florida’s March 15 primary. In fact, the only states that matter right now—pollwise—are Iowa and New Hampshire, and possibly South Carolina.
There’s nearly a month (28 days) between the Iowa caucus and the “SEC primary” of 12 mostly southern states on March 1. After March 1, many campaigns will experience the last gasps of death, and some will actually die. By March 15, the field could be significantly narrowed.
But the debates, which significantly affect polling results, are based on polling results! It’s a self-feedback loop which benefits those on top of the polls, and hurts candidates like Carly Fiorina.
Fiorina was widely seen as the “winner” of the second-tier GOP debate, and surged in the polls as a result. But despite her good performance and polling improvement, she may not make the cut for first tier in the second debate, because of rules established by CNN.
The CNN debate methodology, released earlier this year, weighs polls from July 16 to Sept. 10.
The use of the earlier surveys will hurt the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, who barely registered in the polls before the Aug. 6 Fox News debate. But since then, she has seen a significant bounce.
“It acts as sort of an anchor on those people who had done poorly early and a bit of a parachute for those people who have done well early,” said Cliff Zukin, a Rutgers University political scientist and former president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research.
The criteria could also protect [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ] (Ky.) from sliding out of the top 10 despite his recent dip in polls.
There’s really no reason (other than to protect ratings, perhaps) for this averaging, thus reinforcing the idea that the debates are nothing more than entertainment and a source of revenue for the hosting network.
Perhaps the networks, along with our political parties, should move to a more scientific way of determining debate participants: ask Americans who they want to hear. If shows like American Idol can pick winners based on massive viewer participation, a similar system could be used to pick the debate participants.
I can imagine texting or dialing in to select the candidates, with protections against ballot stuffing (based on caller ID, IP addresses, and other easily tracked user identification data). The results of those polls may be drastically different than the current stacked-deck method used to select who eats with the adults, and who gets the kiddie table.
But it would be OUR results: chosen by the American public through a direct question, not oddly-worded polls which can be easily manipulated (see the UK polling scandal as an excellent example).
We need to hear from the candidates who need to explain themselves, not the ones who pontificate and spew sound bites and make for good ratings. And who knows, the debates might actually get better ratings if they had more viewer control.
“Deez Nuts” polling at 9 percent proves one thing: using voter polls to influence later polls is a terrible idea that needs to be thrown away forever.