The Pollsters' Paradox and Duopolized Discourse

In the Newsletter of the Libertarian Party of Florida, Adrian Wyllie devotes an article to drawing out a paradox I've written on here before: when third party and independent candidates are excluded from debates, organizers will often justify their decision on the basis of the claim that these candidates did not receive X% support in any neutral poll; however, third party and independent candidates are almost never included in any such polls! Call it the pollsters' paradox. Wyllie's article is entitled "Pollsters Create Paradox for Third Party Candidates." An excerpt:

In the modern life cycle of a political election, it is easy to identify the one hurdle third party candidates usually stumble upon. And it is one hurdle over which they have absolutely no control: The pollsters.

In what has become the benchmark for candidate viability, major pollsters, such as Zogby, Quinnipiac, and Rasmussen, are the gatekeepers for third party and independent political office seekers. If a candidate is excluded from the polls, they are excluded from the debates, the candidate forums, and from media coverage as a whole.

While most Republican/Democrat political duopoly candidates have a “golden ticket” to be included in polls without question, third party candidates are often left standing in the porridge line asking, “Please, sir, may I have some more?”

The Florida U.S. Senate race has become a perfect example of this paradox. Take Alexander Snitker, the Libertarian candidate. Libertarians are the third largest political party in the state of Florida. Snitker has been actively campaigning since July 2009. He qualified for the ballot in April 2010, ahead of sitting Governor Charlie Crist. He’s made hundreds of campaign stops. He has hundreds of active volunteers. He has thousands of fans on his combined social media sites. His website gets nearly as much traffic as his big three rivals: Charlie Crist (NPA), Kendrick Meek (D), and Marco Rubio (R). His yard signs and bumper stickers are popping up all over the state.

Yet, not one major pollster has included his name when asking potential voters for whom they plan to pull the lever.

Pollsters usually cite media coverage as a primary criteria for inclusion in a poll, or they simply make a judgment call. Debra Falk of Rasmussen Reports said that, “We research their campaigns, coverage in local media, etc. and make a determination about inclusion from there. Who and what we poll about comes down to our own judgment.”

Consequently, the mainstream media usually cites polling data as criteria for inclusion in candidate debates and forums, as well as in their own reporting.

Read the whole thing.

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