On the eve of the first debate of the 2016 election season, polling has taken on a serious spotlight in the Republican primary. Polls were used to distinguish which of the 17 serious Republican candidates for president would debate during the prime-time 9pm (EDT) slot, and which would be relegated to the 5pm “pre-game” debate.
And the results are in. Based on an averaging of top national polls, the 10 prime-time debaters will be:
Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, and John Kasich.
And the seven candidates who will take the stage at 5pm:
Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, Jim Gilmore.
According to the RealClearPolitics,which averages reliable polls across the partisan divide, and which FOX News sourced in an article about the debate, Republican candidates’ numbers are as follows:
There was plenty of controversy over the selection method for these debates, to be sure. Both the Rick Perry and Rick Santorum campaigns in particular — both were candidates who did well in the 2012 Republican primary, and who might have expected to take the place of, say, Ben Carson or John Kasich should the debate spots have been assigned less “democratically” — insisted that polling this early in the campaign meant nothing.
More than that, giving so much power to national polls may have incentivized outlandish campaign behavior: Lindsey Graham publicly destroyed his own cell phone after Donald Trump publicly announced his phone number. Chris Christie said that teachers unions deserved a punch in the face. Ted Cruz called the Senate majority leader a liar on national television.
For their part, FOX defended the decision and released their (seemingly above-board) criteria for the polls that they used to determine debate participation. The RNC has defended their decision to use polling on the ground that it allowed them to stage the largest and most inclusive debate in American history.
And, to be fair, the polling is clear: Kasich made a smart decision in waiting to announce his candidacy, and Christie knows how to make headlines when it counts. Perry has remained somewhat aloof about the news. A campaign spokesperson told The New York Times: “There’s a good chance that 9 p.m. debate stage is going to be turned into a circus.”
According to RealClearPolitics’ numbers, Hillary Clinton, with 56 percent of total responses, still holds a hefty 35 percent margin over viral contender Bernie Sanders, with 19.7. Next in line is Joe Biden, who hasn’t announced his campaign yet (and may never), at 12.8. Jim Webb, Martin O’Malley, and Lincoln Chaffee, all declared candidates, hover in the low single digits, at 2.1, 1.4, and 0.9, respectively.
Aside from Sanders’ growing popularity, especially among white voters, the possibility of a Joe Biden candidacy for president is exciting for Democrats. Biden does about as well as Clinton in polling against Republican contenders like Scott Walker and Jeb Bush.
The Clinton campaign, strong as it is, still faces challenges: Hillary’s email scandal isn’t going away, and Biden could offer a viable challenge with executive and legislative experience, just like Clinton.