Recent polls show a highly competitive race between the Democratic and Republican party candidates for president. However, it appears that when polling organizations present the public with a more accurate reflection of the presidential ballot this is simply not the case.
A Gallup poll published last Friday found that roughly 7% of registered voters support a third party candidate for president. Among survey organizations, it is standard practice to exclude all third party and Independent candidates from their presidential tracking polls. The highly unusual poll conducted by Gallup last month included the names of three third party candidates in addition to the Democratic and Republican party nominees for president: Jill Stein of the Green Party, Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party.
Of these three candidates, Gary Johnson had the most support at 3%, Jill Stein was preferred by 1% of respondents, and Virgil Goode obtained less than .5% support. Another 2% volunteered the name of Texas Congressman and former Republican party presidential candidate Ron Paul, and 1% volunteered the names of other individuals. A full 5% stated that they would not vote.
Among the major party candidates, President Obama came out on top in the survey at 47%, demonstrating a substantive lead over Republican Mitt Romney, who was preferred by 40% of those polled.
The reasoning behind Gallup’s decision to include Johnson, Stein and Goode’s names in this particular poll is highly revealing. The “special presidential preference question” includes “the names of all candidates who will appear on the ballot in a large number of states.” In other words, the “special presidential preference question” more accurately reflects the actual ballot choices for the office of president than the usual presidential polling question which only includes the names of the Democratic and Republican party candidates.
An obvious question thus arises: if the “special presidential preference question” is more accurate than the standard presidential preference question, why isn’t the special presidential preference question the standard?
One potential response might be that the third party vote is insignificant. No third party candidate in the present poll received more than 3% support. Moreover, the fact that there were more individuals who said they would not vote than there were who said they would support any third party alternative to the Democrat and the Republican underscores the shallowness of the support for these candidates.
Yet, taken together, more than 7% of likely voters in the Gallup poll stated that they would vote for someone other than Obama or Romney and another 5% stated they would not vote for any of the candidates named in the poll. That exceeds the margin of victory between the Democratic and Republican candidates in the last six presidential elections.
Indeed, according to Gallup’s own data, the third party vote is highly significant. In Gallup’s standard presidential tracking poll, Obama and Romney are in a dead heat, “tied at 46% of the vote among registered voters since Gallup began its tracking program in April.” However, when Gallup presents its survey respondents with a choice that provides a more accurate reflection of the presidential ballot, this is clearly not the case, as the present poll shows Obama with a 7% lead over Romney.
Given this state of affairs, is there any reason – other than political bias – as to why a polling organization would not wish to furnish a more accurate reflection of the ballot in its political preference surveys?
As a final note, though the Gallup report stated that Jill Stein will appear on the November ballot as the Green party’s candidate for president, she has not yet been officially nominated by the party. The Greens will be holding their national convention later this week.
Join the discussion Please be relevant and respectful.
If ANY of you believe ANY of the Poll #'s that these tools give then I believe you are already too foregone to know the reality of the situation! Neither one of the two candidate choices that we are given from the media are that popular AT ALL! Romney is only there so obama has an easy win, he has NO chance! The only real change would be Ron Paul!!! In a debate he would wipe the floor with obama, because he is the only one addressing the real issues. He also has much more support then the lame stream media will show! Just check out the thousands of MOTIVATED young men and women at EVERY Ron Paul speech at EVERY college or venue he speaks! Romney doesn't have even close to his support, (he has to pay people to show up), and obama lost all his support like this because of his half stepping and half truths, nobody really believes in this man anymore! People really believe in Ron paul and his message! Don't EVER believe these garbage poll #'s!!!
Polling numbers for third party candidates like Stein, Goode, and Johnson are so low because so few people know about them and what they stand for. The 15% debate entrance threshold needs to be lowered to something like 3-5% so that third party candidates can be learned about by the average voter who does not do extensive research. This would be so simple to implement but would change things in such a dramatic and positive way.
The point should be made that the exclusionary nature of the presidential polls and debates has essentially turned them both into corporate financial contributions to the two major-party candidates. Any presidential candidate that has achieved ballot access in enough states to mathematically win an electoral college victory should be included in any presidential polling and public debates. Two third-party candidates have already achieved this level of ballot access, and also qualified for matching federal funding. As a result, the Green Party's Dr. Jill Stein and the Libertarian Party's Gary Johnson should both be included in all polls and debates from this point forward. The voting public deserves an opportunity to see and hear serious comparisons between the four presidential candidates that will be on their ballots this fall.
This polling exclusion has further consequences. Debate organizations are required to use "objective criteria" to decide who gets in. Frequently, the chosen criterion is polling support. But how do you show support through a poll that you're not included in? This polling exclusion takes an already difficult challenge (getting in debates) and makes it impossible. Here's a spoiler: Obama and Romney will be alone on the "debate" stage. And that will commonly be the case at the state level, too. This is no good for the level of competition that a healthy democracy requires.
Truth is that third party vote doesn't really matter. It's unfortunate, but its just not going to happen anytime soon.
In what sense doesn't it matter? According to Gallup's data, when they ask people if they support Obama or Romney, and don't provide any other options, it's a tie. When choices are included that will actually reflect the ballot, i.e. with third party options, Obama leads by a number of percentage points beyond the margin of error. That is significant.
Democrats and Republicans are quick to dismiss third party alternatives on the basis of the assertion that third party candidates don't matter. But they go into veritable hysterics when any third party candidate appears to be gaining any amount of traction whatsoever.