The threshold for a candidate to make it into the debates is 15 percent or greater poll results in 5 national polls (I assume the Debate Commission has a list) within a certain amount of time prior to the election. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson hasn’t reached that result in any polls so far, but he’s come close at 12 and 13 percent in a couple of polls. Accordingly, plans are being made to ensure room on the stage in case he (or possibly even Green Party candidate Jill Stein who is polling 2 to 6 percent at this point) qualifies.
I have a problem with these rules. For one, polling is less reliable today than 30 years ago as landlines are declining and landline based polls always under-represent younger voters. The pollsters can sometimes account for statistical differences, but they generally have to assume that cell-phone users vote similarly to land phone users of the same age. There are polls which have computers make totally random dials in order to incorporate cell-phones, but under federal law you can’t have a computer ring a cell-phone and then have the recipient wait for a real person to come on the line. Moreover, because they have to pay for the time, cell-phone users are less likely to participate even when reached.
That is not to say that polling is useless. Even with ineffectual sampling, polls are good at tracking movement from one candidate to another (or from undecided to a candidate). And the polling average methods used by statisticians like Nate Silver have generated accuracy from the crowd even if individual polls are inaccurate. However, even Nate has suffered some problems of late, including a spectacular failure in Michigan where polls had Clinton defeating Bernie by 8 to 28 points and Bernie actually pulled out the win. This was an outlier – Silver has been uncannily accurate with his methods. But they aren’t foolproof.
A more reasonable standard would be to simply invite any candidate who has qualified for ballot status in enough states to collect the 270 electoral-college votes to win the election. It’s not easy to do. It requires support of million of people.
But, they aren’t listening to me.