#BEpolls: The Problem with Pollsters Choosing Presidential Candidates

The Democratic Party should really change what constitutes a "qualifying" poll

Dr. G.S. Potter | Contributing Editor

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Below is a list of the “Qualifying Polls Sponsors” that the Democratic Party uses to decide who gets to stand on a debate stage – and who doesn’t.

While you read this list, you might want to ask yourself: how many of these organizations are owned and operated by Black, Brown or Indigenous people? How many of these universities are HBCUs? How many of these polls are offered in languages other than English?  How many of the researchers writing the questions to be asked are anything but white and middle class?  ….

ABC News

Washington Post

CBS News/YouGov


Des Moines Register

Fox News

Monmouth University

National Public Radio

NBC News/Wall Street Journal; NBC News/Marist

New York Times; Quinnipiac University

University of New Hampshire

USA Today/Suffolk University

Winthrop University

The 2020 Democratic Presidential Election cycle started off with the most diverse set of candidates the party had ever produced. And while the fundraising threshold is often targeted as being unfair to candidates of color and candidates whose constituencies are from low income communities, it is the polling threshold that functionally eliminates voices of color from the debate stage.

And not only does that voice remain overwhelmingly White, but it is also overwhelmingly wrong. 

Take the debacle that was the Iowa caucus, for example.  In a performance that can at best be described as embarrassing, the Qualifying Poll Sponsors (QPS) couldn’t have been more wrong about voter preference. 

Fox News, for example, reported on January 26 that …

… Bernie Sanders has pulled within three percentage points of front runner Joe Biden, who appears to have lost support to billionaire Michael Bloomberg.  Biden receives 26 percent support among Democratic primary voters and Sanders 23 percent. They are followed by Elizabeth Warren at 14 percent, Bloomberg 10 percent, Pete Buttigieg 7 percent, Andrew Yang 5 percent, and Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer are at 3 percent apiece. All others receive 1 percent or less.

According to a January 29 article, Monmouth University similarly stated …

Biden stands at 23 percent support and Sanders at 21 percent in the poll, which was conducted Thursday through Monday. The former vice president’s 2-point edge over the populist independent senator who’s making his second straight White House bid is well within the survey’s sampling error.  Buttigieg – who at 38 is the youngest candidate in the Democratic presidential field – stands at 16 percent, with Warren of Massachusetts at 15 percent.

On February 1, two days before the Iowa caucus, the Washington Post reported,

A Washington Post average of the most recent Iowa state polls shows four candidates clustered closely at the top, with Biden at 23 percent, Sanders at 21 percent, Buttigieg at 18 percent and Warren at 15 percent, along with Klobuchar at 8 percent and other candidates at 3 percent or below.

The Des Moines Register-CNN-Mediacom poll published Jan. 10 revealed a similar picture of the race’s top tier, showing Sanders at 20 percent support, Warren at 17 percent, Buttigieg at 16 percent, Biden at 15 percent and Klobuchar at 6 percent.  It’s worth noting that the poll this QPS was scheduled to produce immediately before the Iowa caucus were scrapped because of an admitted error with the survey questions. 

It’s also worth noting there are likely a multitude of errors that have not been admitted.

Eventually, the actual outcome of the Iowa caucus was

Still, these polling entities are allowed to decide who gets to stand on the debate stage, and ultimately who gets to continue running for President.  Not the people.  The Pollsters. 

There should be more transparency and accountability in the Democratic polling process. Black, Latino, and Indigenous media outlets and universities have been completely left out of this process.  They need to organize to ensure that changes.  The methodologies and questions being used and generated by Qualifying Poll Sponsors also need to become transparent.  If White bias, or any other form of bias, is inappropriately skewing the results of QPS polls, these errors need to be identified and remedied immediately. Academics of color should be at the forefront of these efforts.  The channels through which the questions being asked should also be highly scrutinized. The languages and formats that questions are asked in should also be identified so as to not exclude voters that speak languages other than English, disabled voters, and low income voters.  

The Democratic Party must be able to identify who its voters are and how they are responding with laser-like precision if it is going to defeat the Republican Party in 2020. If it can’t even identify who should (or shouldn’t) make a debate stage, how does the party even stand a chance?  This nation does not have the luxury of ignoring inclusion or only scratching its surface. If the internal mechanisms behind the party aren’t immediately altered to ensure that White bias is eliminated from voter polling methods, the DNC will be flying blindfolded into the most important Presidential election in modern history.