Presidential polls are supposed to give the public a good idea of where the race for the White House stands at a certain point in time. By averaging the results of a few polls, a reasonably accurate picture appears, but don’t underestimate the way they often serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
By emphasizing the Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump match-up, and including Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Jill Stein as an afterthought, polls and the media coverage of them subconsciously push people towards picking the Democratic or Republican nominees.
The examples of this are everywhere.
A recent NBC News/Survey Monkey poll first asked respondents whether they support Clinton, Trump or no answer. Only eight percent of voters selected no answer.
The next question included both Johnson and Stein, in addition to Clinton and Trump. They received 11 percent and four percent respectively, which combined is seven percent more than those who selected no answer to the previous question.
Even though Johnson and Stein will be on almost all ballots, they are presented as an afterthought in this poll.
Some might be saying, “Those are just two poll questions, how else does this poll protect the two-party system?” That’s a reasonable question with an easy answer: there is no mention of the Libertarian and Green parties other than in those questions.
One question asks, “In politics today, do you consider yourself a Republican, Democrat or Independent?” Only one percent of respondents chose no answer.
The very next question reads, “As of today, do you lean more to the Republican Party or more to the Democratic Party? [AMONG IND OR DON’T KNOW FOR PARTY].” Thirty-nine percent of respondents chose neither.
If that many people don’t like either political party, why aren’t they being presented with the other options that exist? There’s no easy answer to that question, but numerous other polls reinforce the idea of there being a two-party bias.
A Reuters/Ipsos article about their most recent presidential poll leads off by saying that Clinton leads Trump by eight percent, but including Johnson and Stein drops that lead to seven percent.
That’s a minuscule difference, but it still reveals the media emphasizing the Clinton vs. Trump match-up, instead of the reality of a four-way race.
Before even mentioning Johnson and Stein, the article first brings up the results of the Clinton, Trump or neither question, just as the NBC poll did.
A Quinnipiac poll of voters in Colorado, Iowa and Virginia, like the others I just described, leads off by giving people the choices of Clinton, Trump, someone else, or don’t know/no answer. Only four percent in Colorado and Iowa chose someone else and five percent did in Virginia, but when Johnson and Stein were included, they received a combined 23 percent, 15 percent and 16 percent respectively.
At the beginning of the article when it contrasts the Clinton vs. Trump match-up with the four-way race, the “someone else” option isn’t even presented. To see the drastic difference between voters choosing “someone else” and either Johnson or Stein, a reader has to go all the way to the end of the article and compare the answers to questions one and six.
Finding the media’s polling bias requires critical analysis, but using the techniques that I’m about to describe, it becomes obvious in nearly every single mainstream poll.
When a journalist writes a headline or lede describing the percentage ahead a certain candidate is, check whether that’s in a two-way or four-way race. Chances are it’s the hypothetical Clinton vs. Trump match-up (hypothetical because nearly all Americans will have four choices on the ballot).
Check how often polls mention Johnson and Stein, or the Libertarian and Green parties. Chances are the large majority of questions will only include Clinton, Trump, Democrats, Republicans or Independents.
They’ll ask about Clinton and Trump’s policies, favorability ratings, experience and characteristics among many other things. They’ll also ask numerous questions about how people feel about the Democratic and Republican parties.
But it’s virtually impossible to find a poll that asks just as many, or even anywhere close to as many, in-depth questions about Johnson, Stein and their respective parties.
To get into the presidential debates, Johnson and Stein will need 15 percent support each in five different national polls. That already steep task becomes nearly impossible when basically every poll subconsciously makes voters see them as an afterthought.
Our democracy is being stolen right out from under us by the very journalists who claim to be informing us in an unbiased manner. If we want honest and fair elections, we need to stand up and speak out about the blatantly biased media coverage that protects the two-party system that so many Americans dislike.