Experts Warn Against Public Polls as Setting Presidential Debate Criteria

Political public policy polls may not be the best criteria to set presidential debate standards, according to several experts who explained their skepticism in detail with Politico and with whom Sen. Rand Paul’s communications director agrees.

Pollsters warned Politico about the public opinion surveys that many media outlets depend on while reporting about the Democrat and Republican nominations, hinting, “Don’t trust polls to detect often-tiny grades of opinion in a giant field.”

“Polls are being used to do a job that they’re really not intended for — and they’re not as qualified for as they used to be,” stated Rutgers University Professor Cliff Zukin to Politico.

The former president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, Zukin said that polls are harder to rely on because more and more Americans opt out of participating, and are difficult to reach, as many do not have a land phone line.

“The declining response rates, Zukin says, create a situation in which true public feelings are more difficult than ever to discern,” Politico noted.

With a deep GOP bench, Fox News, CNN, and CNBC have all used public polling to determine who should be on the primetime debate stage – placing those candidates that don’t make the cut off at an earlier panel.

GOP presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was one of the candidates singled out in the media last week after CNBC released its debate criteria for the October 28th GOP debate. Paul is right above the cusp set by CNBC to make the primetime debate stage.

Paul’s communications director, Sergio Gor, told Breitbart News, “Some media outlets continue to be confused, using [Real Clear Politics] averages instead of CNBC criteria. CNBC criteria clearly put Senator Rand Paul on the main stage at this point. Additionally, some outlets choose to report on some polls but not other polls, for example the most recent Reuters poll has Senator Paul at 6%, ahead of Rubio and Cruz, yet somehow that’s omitted from the liberal press.”

“If the same criteria were applied in the last cycle, the winner of the Iowa Caucus would not have been on stage – pollsters are even speaking out against the criteria,” Gor added.

Politico reported experts also cautioned about trusting public polls because of the margin of error, as well as small sample sizes.

“It’s like asking a scale that can only tell pounds to measure ounces,” Zukin explained. “They’re just not that finely calibrated. … I think polls can do a good job talking about tiers of candidates in name recognition. That’s all that polls can do. But they can’t tell the difference between Bobby Jindal, who’s not in the debate, and Chris Christie, who is.”

Politico pointed out two differences between CNBC’s criteria compared to Fox News and CNN. “First, CNBC will only use polls conducted for major broadcast and cable news organizations, ignoring other polls conducted using the same methodology by academic institutions that were used by Fox and CNN,” Politico reported. It went on:

Second, rather than take the top 10 candidates for the main-stage debate, CNBC is instead setting a floor, only allowing those candidates who average at least 2.5 percent in qualifying polls released between the second debate and Oct. 21, a week before the third debate.

According to the CNBC criteria, GOP presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is at 2.75 percent, only .25 above the threshold.


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