News Release

How “Non-Opinion” Polls and Debate Commission Marginalize Independents

Vote Pact

SAM HUSSEINI, sam[at], @votepact
Husseini is the founder of, which encourages disenchanted Democrats and disenchanted Republicans to pair up and each vote for the candidates they genuinely want. He just wrote the piece “How Presidential ‘Non-Opinion’ Polls Drive Down Third Party Numbers and Facilitate Debate Exclusion,” which states: “This week, the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates announced what polls it will utilize in excluding candidates from its debates.

“The CPD says candidates like the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein must get 15 percent in polls conducted by ‘five national public opinion polling organizations’ — ABC/Washington Post, CBS/New York Times, CNN/Opinion Research Corporation, Fox News, and NBC/Wall Street Journal.

“Not only — as several have correctly argued — is the 15 percent threshold arbitrary and exclusionary, but these polls don’t actually ask voter preferences at all.

“They all ask ‘If the presidential election were being held today for whom would you vote?’ or some minor variation of that.

“Who you want or prefer and what you would do in the voting booth may be very different things. These ‘public opinion polls’ don’t actually measure opinion — they are a non-opinion polls. They ask a false hypothetical regarding a future action.

“A better public opinion question would be: ‘Who do you want to be president?’ or ‘Who would you prefer to be president?’ or ‘Who is your first choice to be president?’

“By contrast, the question that the CPD relies on from these media organizations — if held today, who would you vote for — is a tactical question. As has become increasingly clear, there are many people who would like Gary Johnson or Jill Stein to be president. However, many who fear Trump or Clinton are currently planning on voting for Clinton or Trump. …

“This is more egregious since the CPD has basically asked for the ‘who do you want/prefer to be president’ question to be used. When some suggested alternative criteria for inclusion in presidential debates, like if a majority wanted another candidate to be in the debates, the heads of the CPD rejected the effort. … Paul Kirk, the then-co-chair of the CPD (now co-chairman emeritus) and former head of the Democratic National Committee, said: ‘It’s a matter of entertainment vs. the serious question of who would you prefer to be president of the United States.’

“So for the Commission on Presidential Debates to fulfill the very criteria it has set for itself, the ‘serious question’ of ‘who would you prefer to be president’ needs to be the polling question used as the basis for inclusion in any debates that group sponsors.”

Husseini’s past pieces include: “#BernieAndBoom,” and “A Path out of the Reversible Straitjacket of the Political Duopoly.” He is also communications director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.