Monmouth University’s Patrick Murray, who has emerged as one of the predominant pollsters in American politics, says that the 2020 debate rules recently announced by the Democratic National Committee will “once again put a sharp focus on public polling’s role in the presidential nomination process.”
Murray says that will place “an undue editorial burden on public polling outfits.”
“In 2015, the RNC used polling to determine which candidates would make it into the ‘primetime’ debate and which would be relegated to the undercard,” Murray said. “This time, the Democrats are using polls to determine who can make it into the debates at all, with such a low threshold that it really comes down to whether a pollster simply chooses to include a candidate’s name.”
Murray said that the Monmouth Poll in the last presidential election showed they could survey a large field “with reasonable accuracy.”
“We maxed out at 17 names in that contest,” said Murray. “Our initial poll of the 2020 race in January included 19 declared and potential candidates for the Democratic nomination. After the DNC announcement, we expanded that to 23 names.”
In the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, public polls were used to divide the full field into two separate tiers of viability, Murray explained.
“The problem then was that the margin of error inherent in polling could end up relegating a candidate to the lower-tier debate,” Murray said. “The Democrats have attempted to overcome that problem by doing away with the tiered debate structure in favor of random assignment.
The Democratic plan is to give offer a debate slot to any candidate who gets at least 1% in three separate polls – with no more than 20 candidates participating in the forum.
“Four years ago, pollsters were concerned that the determination of whether a candidate could take the main stage conferred too much precision on poll results,” Murray noted. “In 2019, we are faced with a different problem. The main thing standing between a candidate registering one percent and zero percent in any particular poll is each pollster’s decision of whom to include.”
Murray explained that the Monmouth Poll will see to be “as inclusive as possible in its polling of the Democratic field in these early stages of the campaign.” He said the poll will include any declared candidate who has previously held federal or statewide office.
The Monmouth Poll will also include candidates like tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who has shown some early fundraising ability, and author Marianne Williamson, who has paid staff on the ground in Iowa and raised more than $1 million when she sought a California congressional seat in 2014.
“These are necessarily judgment calls, but we would rather err on the side of inclusion given the DNC debate criteria.” Murray said.
According to Murray, five declared candidates – Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren – have all cleared the 1% threshold in 2019 Monmouth polls. Five others — Julián Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillibrand, John Hickenlooper, and Yang – are at 1%.
Pete Buttigieg, John Delaney, Jay Inslee, and Williamson have not yet reached the 1% mark in Monmouth University polling.