The cutoff has been made.
As Fox News announced tonight at the beginning of “Special Report with Bret Baier,” the following GOP presidential candidates will be onstage for the prime time presidential debate Thursday night at 9 p.m.: Donald Trump (23.4%), Jeb Bush (12.0%), Scott Walker (10.2%), Mike Huckabee (6.6%), Ben Carson (5.8%), Ted Cruz (5.4%), Marco Rubio (5.4%), Rand Paul (4.8%), Chris Christie (3.4%) and John Kasich (3.2%). That’s 10 candidates; their tetes-a-tetes will be moderated by three Fox News eminences — “Special Report” host Bret Baier, “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace and “Kelly File” host Megyn Kelly. The five polls used for the rankings are Bloomberg, CBS, Fox News, Monmouth University and Quinnipiac University. “It’s going to be a fascinating debate,” said Wallace.
The remaining seven — Rick Perry (1.8%), Rick Santorum (1.4%), Bobby Jindal (1.4%), Carly Fiorina (1.3%), Lindsey Graham (0.7%), George Pataki (0.6%) and Jim Gilmore (0.2%) — are eligible for the JV debate, which will take place on Fox News, too, though at the less prominent time slot of 5 p.m., an exchange that will be moderated by morning news anchors Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum. “Any of those candidates could bump up later on and be in a different position in a different debate,” said Baier.
Right, but are these groups statistically distinct? That is, is the average used by Fox News helpful in drawing a meaningful cutoff between the last participant in the varsity debate — Kasich — and the first participant in the JV debate — Perry. Fox News addressed this in some notes on methodology shared with the Erik Wemple Blog: “Each poll has a different margin of error, and averaging requires a distinct test of statistical significance. Given the over 2400 interviews contained within the five polls, from a purely statistical perspective it is at least 90 % likely that the tenth place Kasich is ahead the eleventh place Perry,” according to Fox News.
The announcement will likely serve as a brief news interlude interrupting what has been a stream of criticism of the network for its culling of candidates to grace the main event. It announced that it would take the top 10 candidates in an average of five national polls. What a terrible approach, screamed a whole bunch of loudmouths. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has turned her recent episodes into a running hammer for the network’s debate management. Candidates with poor polling numbers have chipped in with their dissents. So outraged was the McClatchy-Marist Poll that it suspended its work over its desire to stay out of the Fox News calculations. “It’s a problem when it’s shaping who gets to sit at the table,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute, in a McClatchy piece.
Back in May, Miringoff wrote a list of the Top 10 reasons why polling results shouldn’t be used to decide debate participation. Reason No. 2: “Name recognition unduly influences results of early primary horserace polls. Lesser known candidates will now frontload their efforts to try to make the cutoff. Public polls altering campaign strategies? BAD!”
Stay tuned to see if Fox News’s presentation and methodology defense stave off further critiques.
I look forward to being @FoxNews 5pm debate for what will be a serious exchange of ideas & positive solutions to get America back on track.
— Rick Perry (@GovernorPerry) August 4, 2015
Fiorina issued a statement:
“I look forward to answering questions on Thursday in Cleveland. I continue to be encouraged by the support of conservative activists and grassroots Republicans across the country–even just today from the readers of PJMedia and Breitbart. They know we need someone from outside the political class if we want America back in the leadership business.”