How To: Manufacture Public Opinion and Undermine Democracy — the American Way

The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) is co-chaired by Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr. (former chairman of the Republican National Committee) and Michael D. McCurry (former press secretary for Bill Clinton’s administration).

On August 15, 2016, the self-proclaimed “nonpartisan, nonprofit” CPD announced that the following polls would be used to determine a candidate’s debate eligibility: [1]

1. ABC-Washington Post

2. CBS-New York Times

3. CNN-Opinion Research Corporation

4. Fox News

5. NBC-Wall Street Journal

According to the CPD, these polls were selected for the “soundness of the survey methodology employed by the polling organization.”

The CPD requires that a presidential candidate have, among other things, “a level of support of at least 15% (fifteen percent) of the national electorate” as determined by these five national polling organizations selected by CPD, using “the average of those organizations’ most recent publicly-reported results at the time of the determination.”

On September 16th, the CPD announced who would participate in the first debate. Only Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were invited. Gary Johnson, Jill Stein and several other “third party” candidates did not make the cut. [2]

The following is an examination of those five polls used to determine eligibility for the nationally televised presidential debates.

ABC-Washington Post

On August 9th, the Washington Post published the results of a poll conducted on August 1–4. [3] This was their most recent published poll before September 16.

The first question asked how likely the respondent was to vote in the general election.

The second question asked of registered voters was: “If the presidential election were being held today and the candidates were (Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, the Democrats) and (Donald Trump and Mike Pence, the Republicans), for whom would you vote? Would you lean toward (Clinton and Kaine) or toward (Trump and Pence)?”

Depending on the answer (Clinton or Trump being the only options presented), the next question asked if the respondent mainly supported that candidate or opposed the other.

Next, the question was asked: “If the presidential election were being held today and the candidates were [(Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, the Democrats), (Donald Trump and Mike Pence, the Republicans)], [(Gary Johnson and Bill Weld of the Libertarian Party) and (Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka of the Green Party)], for whom would you vote? Would you lean toward [(Clinton and Kaine), (Trump and Pence)], [(Johnson and Weld) or (Stein and Baraka)]?”

The remaining 40 questions on the poll were focused only on the two major party candidates. The last question asked: “Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as a…”, with the possible answers being: “Democrat”, “Republican”, “Independent”, “Other” and “No opinion” (with 44% of respondents choosing one of the last three options; 33% Democrat; and 22% Republican).

CBS-New York Times

On September 15th, the New York Times published the results of a poll conducted on September 9–13. [4]

The first three questions were aimed at determining if the respondent was a registered voter, how closely they had been following the presidential election and how likely they were to vote.

The fourth question was: “If the 2016 presidential election were being held today and the candidates were Hillary Clinton for President and Tim Kaine for Vice President, the Democrats, and Donald Trump for President and Mike Pence for Vice President, the Republicans, would you vote for Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine or Donald Trump and Mike Pence?”

After a couple of follow-up questions about the major party candidates and how certain the respondent was of their choice, they were asked: “If the 2016 presidential election were being held today and the candidates were Hillary Clinton, the Democrat, Donald Trump, the Republican, Gary Johnson, the Libertarian, and Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, would you vote for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Gary Johnson or Jill Stein?”

None of the remaining 50+ questions made any mention of third parties or their candidates.

CNN-Opinion Research Corporation

On September 6th, CNN released the results of a poll conducted on September 1–4. [5]

The first question asked: “Suppose that the presidential election were being held today and you had to choose between Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine as the Democratic Party’s candidates, Donald Trump and Mike Pence as the Republican Party’s candidates, Gary Johnson and Bill Weld as the Libertarian Party’s candidates and Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka as the Green Party’s candidates. Who would you be more likely to vote for?”

The next question asked: “Now suppose that the presidential candidates on the ballot in your state included only Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party’s candidate and Donald Trump and as the Republican Party’s candidate. Who would you be more likely to vote for?”

That was followed by: “Regardless of who you support and trying to be as objective as possible, who do you think will win the presidential election this November?” The possible answers included “Johnson, the Libertarian” and “Stein, the Green party candidate.”

This was followed with: “We’d like to get your overall opinion of some people in the news. As I read each name, please say if you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of these people — or if you have never heard of them” and again Jill Stein and Gary Johnson were included. Interestingly, only Trump and Clinton’s running mates (Mike Pence and Tim Kaine) also appeared in the list.

None of the remaining four questions included third party candidates. Also worthy of note is the fact that, when respondents were broken into age group demographics, not a single respondent fell into the “18–34” group. In other words, no “millennials” were polled.

Fox News

On September 15th, Fox News released the results of a poll conducted on September 11–14. [6]

The first two questions gauged the respondent’s interest in the presidential election and concern with its outcome.

The third question asked: “If the 2016 presidential election were held today…How would you vote if the candidates were: Democrats Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine; Republicans Donald Trump and Mike Pence; Libertarians Gary Johnson and Bill Weld; [or] Green Party candidates Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka.”

The next question was: “How would you vote if the candidates were: Democrats Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine; [or] Republicans Donald Trump and Mike Pence.”

None of the remaining 36 questions made reference to a third party candidate.

NBC-Wall Street Journal

On August 7th, Wall Street Journal released the results of a poll conducted on July 31 — August 3. [7] This was their most recent published poll before September 16.

The first three questions were demographic related.

The fourth question was about the respondent’s sentiments toward the current state of the union and the job that President Obama has done thus far.

The fifth question asked voters to rate several people and organizations as either: “Very Positive”, “Somewhat Positive”, “Neutral”, “Somewhat Negative”, “Very Negative”, or “Don’t Know Name/Not Sure”. None of the third parties or their candidates were mentioned, but the list did include Michelle Obama, Chelsea Clinton and Khizr Khan.

The sixth question was: “If the next election for president were held today, with Donald Trump and Mike Pence as the Republican candidates, and Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine as the Democratic candidates, for whom would you vote?”

The next question asked: “And, if the next election for president were held today, with Donald Trump as the Republican candidate, Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate, Gary Johnson the Libertarian candidate, and Jill Stein the Green Party candidate for whom would you vote?”

None of the remaining 20 questions made mention of a third party candidate.

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Sources:

[1] http://www.debates.org/index.php?mact=News,cntnt01,detail,0&cntnt01articleid=62&cntnt01origid=27&cntnt01detailtemplate=newspage&cntnt01returnid=80

[2] http://www.debates.org/index.php?mact=News,cntnt01,detail,0&cntnt01articleid=65&cntnt01origid=27&cntnt01detailtemplate=newspage&cntnt01returnid=80

[3] https://www.washingtonpost.com/page/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2016/08/07/National-Politics/Polling/release_435.xml

[4] https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/3109483/sept16poll.pdf

[5] http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2016/images/09/05/rel13a.-.2016.post-labor.day.pdf

[6] https://fnn.app.box.com/s/77mhn9ynei0rnoqll13c56yflmjifm1y

[7] http://www.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/16804NBCWSJSeptemberPoll9212016.pdf