BAYHAM: Statistical Hair Splitting And The Fox News Presidential Debate

The defining moment of Ronald Reagan’s bid for the party nomination in 1980 was when he participated in a debate in New Hampshire that was sponsored by the Nashua Telegraph newspaper but underwritten by Reagan’s campaign.

There was some back and forth as to which candidates would participate, with the Telegraph wanting limited to just Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Reagan decided to throw a curveball and invited the rest of the field, which included Senators Howard Baker and Bob Dole, Congressmen John Anderson and Phil Crane, and ex-Texas Governor John Connally.

When the debate moderator objected to the larger group’s presence, refused to hear out Reagan’s explanation, and asked that Reagan’s microphone be turned off, the former California governor angrily shouted that he was paying for the very microphone that they were trying to shut off.

While the primaries stretched from February to late May, Reagan in essence clinched the party nod (and the New Hampshire primary) that moment.

While there were selfish reasons for Reagan to want greater participation in the debate, as it would further diminish the threat from his main rival Bush by chopping the field up, though there was genuine merit in opening up the process in what was the first primary of the cycle.

Republicans find themselves in a similar position in 2015 as next year’s presidential nomination fight kicks off in a few weeks with the first debate in the very city where next summer the party blessing will be officially bestowed. However one news network is already trying to cull the field from the start.

As of right now there are 17 announced candidates for the GOP nod, each possessing significant experience in either government or in a non-professional political field that gives their bid at least a modicum of credibility, even if most could be charitably described as long shots.

It is the largest field to eye the Republican presidential nomination since the sun began to set on the era of the “favorite son” candidates in 1968.

It is also the most diverse crop of contenders to ever seek either party nomination.

Joining the standard crowd of white middle aged candidates are a female, a candidate of Indian lineage, an African-American and two Hispanics.

In pale contrast, the Democrats get to choose between an older white woman and a gaggle of old white men spouting worn out ideas and rhetoric.

Yet the electorate might not be able to see the ultimate refutation of the longstanding leftist-media canard that the GOP lacks diversity as the Fox News August 6th debate will have the top ten polling presidential candidates, potentially leaving Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, ex-Hewlett- Packard ceo Carly Fiorina, South Carolina US Senator Lindsey Graham, ex-New York Governor George Pataki, Ohio governor John Kasich, and the 2012 runner up for the Republican nomination Rick Santorum out of prime time.

Former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, who also briefly served as RNC chairman during the first year of George W. Bush’s administration, has quasi-announced that he would seek the presidency.

Fox News will host a forum featuring those who did not make the cut that will air well in advance of the debate, which will draw little attention, particularly as they will not sharing the stage with the man who has accrued a staggering disproportionate amount of the media’s focus, real estate developer Donald Trump.

While 17 candidates would make for a challenging debate format, it’s important for the public to have the opportunity to size up the candidates in at least the first two venues. If not now, then when?

Furthermore the polling data from 2011 and 2012 was highly fluid, with the lead changing hands several times.

When Santorum won the Iowa caucuses he was polling in the low single digits nationally.

Being kept out of the early debates could have the effect of freezing out later entries into the race or those who have refrained from making radical statements sure to generate publicity while appealing to a particular niche of the GOP electorate that is not necessarily reflective of the party as a whole.

The RNC said that they wished to preclude the media from having undue influence in the nomination process when they took over the management of the debates, yet permitting Fox News to keep out candidates who are not faring well in early name-recognition driven surveys taken while most Americans are not even looking at the 2016 presidential election is in effect allowing the media to manipulate the field by ignoring candidates they do not wish to cover, thus cratering their poll numbers.

As of right now Trump. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, US Senators Rand Paul (KY), Ted Cruz (TX), and Marco Rubio (FL), neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson and New Jersey governor Chris Christie, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker are considered virtual locks to participate in the debate, leaving one slot that could go to one of the previously referenced forum invitees or the man who has a tenuous grasp on the 10th spot- former Texas governor Rick Perry.

Pending on which poll you are looking at, the second time candidate Perry is as high as 4% or as low as 1%. In fact the bottom 8 candidates are all polling within a margin of error of each other.

With the numbers so close, it would be ridiculous for a news organization to make what would be a consequential decision based off of statistical fractions. It would be better for democracy and a party seeking to broadcast its diversity to include all candidates a degree of standing.

And if Fox News doesn’t do so voluntarily, the Republican National Committee should insist on it.

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