The race for the Republican nomination in 2016 is leading to several major impacts on polling and debates which, in turn, is having ramifications for the candidates and their candidacies.
Polling is a crucial element in politics, but it takes on a special use in presidential primary campaigns. Debate placement is dependent upon polling. Candidates in the middle have higher vote results. Now, the higher amount of candidates is causing trouble for pollsters. Politico reported how the pollsters are grappling with how many candidates to include. The more candidates, the longer the list of buttons to hit is. This field is also causing pollsters to need to go into double-digits. The long wait time and the double digit combinations is causing pollsters to think that some people may not participate in their polls. This would then lead to pollsters having to find more people to participate.
Debate planners are also grappling with how to deal with the large amount of contenders. The more candidates, the less screen time per candidate. Fox News handled their debate by capping it to the top 10 places in polling. Ties could lead to more than ten candidates being onstage. CNN has taken a different approach where they are splitting their debate into two segments. One segment will have only the top ten candidates, no ties. The other segment will have the remaining contenders.
Neither approach has gotten universal praise. Fox’s approach was criticized by candidates, including Rick Santorum, as being noninclusive and limiting. CNN’s approach was also blasted for including too many candidates and weakening the debate as a result. Adding to the complications is that the Republican National Committee has put a cap on the amount of debates. This means that, for example, CNN could host two separate debates.
As Newt Gingrich would profess, debates can make a candidate, even several times. Debates are one of the few events that cause major shifts for candidates. Being closed out of a debate cuts off the candidate from major national exposure.
There is no win-win for candidates, media, or pollster for the Republican field. Any attempt by the media to include more voices lessens the time for each, cutting out voices hurts the candidates. These are challenges the Republican Party will wrestle with over the coming weeks and months.