Profile vs. talent in politics

imageThe first Republican Presidential debate is two weeks away and for those not in the top tier the pressure is on to find a way to get in.

Fox News, which will run the first debate in Cleveland, is limiting participation to 10 candidates based on five polls, though we don’t yet know which polls will be used.

Using an average based upon on five polls tracked by RealClearPolitics, we can identify eight candidates likely to get in, with the remaining two spots very much undetermined. In fact, The Hill notes that for candidates currently ranked between 9th and 14th place the “polling differential is negligible.”

“It’s a roll of the dice,” said Monmouth University polling director Patrick Murray. “It’s going to come down to the vagaries of how independent pollsters round off their results — we’re talking tenths of decimal points. It could come down to the five or six people who didn’t pick up their phones for a national survey and the five or six people who did.”

According to some strategist, candidates on the edges of participation are being forced to spend money on national ad buys to boost their polling numbers. To complicate matters further, Donald Trump’s dominance of earned media is making it very difficult for other candidates to get noticed at all.

People can talk all they want. It’s difficult to know if exclusion from this first debate is going to be decisive. But it is dangerous to use early polling numbers to include or exclude candidates from participating in meaningful ways out of the gate.

Donald Trump is a master at getting noticed, but may not have staying power. On the other side, American politics is full of slow starters who became strong finishers.

Early polls are notoriously unreliable at determining anything, but creating an early and potentially false impression in voters minds of who is and who isn’t supposed to count may matter in the long run.

The famous always have a leg up in politics and usually start out stronger because people don’t pay enough attention to distinguish talent from profile. This debate structure just formalizes that fact, and that’s a problem.

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