Gary Johnson

Presidential Debate Commission Criteria Is Both Good News and Bad News for Gary Johnson

Duopoly chooses five of Johnson's best-performing polls, but otherwise declines to relax its competition-stifling rules


Credit—Paul Hennessy/Polaris/Newscom

Over at CNN, Brian Stelter breaks news that the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD)—the Republican/Democrat-controlled organization that has monopolized organization of the presidential debates since the 1988 election—has announced its criteria for inclusion in this fall's televised gabfests. First the bad news for Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson and the Green Party's Jill Stein: Despite some extremely tentative and non-committal hints from CPD executives, the 15 percent threshold is still a 15 percent threshold, and "will be applied in mid-September" for the initial Sept. 26 debate, then reapplied before each debate after.

The good news for Johnson is that the five polls selected by the commission are some of the friendliest in the field for the Libertarian. They are:

* CBS-New York Times (11 percent average in four polls since June; high of 12%)

* Fox News (11% average in four polls, high of 12%)

* CNN-Opinion Research Corporation (10% average in four polls, high of 13%)

* NBC-Wall Street Journal (10% average in three polls, high of 11%)

* ABC-Washington Post (average and high of 8% in three polls)

So Johnson is starting from a base of 10 percent, which is certainly better than the 8.4 percent average he currently shows over at the RealClearPolitics polling page, and also the adjusted 9.0 percent he gets at FiveThirtyEight's polls-plus. If the CPD had instead chosen, say, Reuters-Ipsos, Economist-YouGov, PPP, Monmouth, and Rasmussen Reports, he'd be starting from a baseline of under 7 percent.

Though Jill Stein and her now 3 percent showing at the polls had no prayer anyway, she still could end up impacting whether her Libertarian counterpart gets in. How? Because Johnson's two most favorable polls here, Fox News and CBS-New York Times, currently do not include Stein as an option. Should they begin to, that may shave his performance just a tad. Conversely, if the other three polls in the basket stop including Stein, his numbers could go up.

Making it into the presidential debates has been the strategy for Gary Johnson and William Weld (along with some regional targeting, largely in the Mountain West). Since their lawsuit against the debate commission and its puppet-masters was tossed out of court earlier this month, that means they've got about a month to boost their polling support by 50 percent. As Emily Ekins wrote back in late June, you can squint your eyes and see the possibilities, but it's still a steep uphill climb.