The Marist Institute for Public Opinion suspended a regular question that asks voters to choose between 2016 presidential candidates in its latest survey so the poll would not be used by Fox News to determine which candidates appear on stage at the first Republican debate Thursday evening.
Fox News, which is organizing the debate with Facebook and the Ohio Republican Party, decided earlier this year that only the top 10 candidates in the five most recent national polls recognized by the network would appear on the main debate stage. The other six will appear in a one-hour forum at 5 p.m. on Thursday, a few hours before the debate.
With several candidates clustered within the margin of error in the low single digits, it's not entirely clear who will make the cut. Fox is planning to announce the 10 who will appear in the primetime debate on Tuesday.
"It's a bad use of public polls," Marist Institute Polling Director Lee Miringoff told McClatchy, which conducts the poll with Marist. "It asks public polls to have a precision that ignores the margin of error. There's a big distinction made where there's no statistical difference."
Instead of asking which candidates voters would choose in a Democratic or Republican primary, the group instead looked at how much voters liked or disliked each candidate and how the various Republicans would fare against Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in its most recent poll.
After Fox announced the debate criteria earlier this year, Miringoff wrote a piece called the "Top 10 Reasons Why Polls Should Not be Used to Determine Eligibility for Debates," riffing on the former "Top Ten" lists done by former "Late Show" host David Letterman. His top reasons had to do with the problems of many candidates falling within the margin of error on polls and the meaningless use of decimal points, which are too imprecise.
"It's a problem when it's shaping who gets to sit at the table," he told McClatchy.
Michael Clemente, Fox News' executive vice president of news, said in a statement Sunday, "When the results are released, everyone will see that common sense and fairness prevailed," according to Politico.
Among Miringoff's biggest concerns is that public polls "are affecting the process they're supposed to be measuring" as candidates try to goose their numbers to make it into the debate. He specifically cited two humorous videos that Republican candidates have made recently: one in which Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul destroys the tax code with a chainsaw and one in which South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham demonstrates various ways to destroy his cell phone after fellow candidate Donald Trump gave out the number on national television.