This Thursday, At 10, FOX News Is Correct

FOX News just announced the 10 candidates who will participate in the first primetime Republican presidential primary debate on August 6, 2015. The top 10 were decided by these procedures.  Given that FOX is arguably playing a huge role in the free-for-all-for-the-GOP’s-Soul that is that race for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, it is important to consider whether, and to what degree, FOX News “got it right” when they chose “10” as the size of the field. Before continuing, kudos to FOX News for playing this difficult game as straight as possible: the procedures are transparent and simple. Thoughthey have ineradicable wiggle room and space for manipulation, I really think this was an example of how to make messy business as clean as possible.  That said, let’s see how messy it turned out…

In order to gauge how important procedures were in this case, I examined the past 10 polls (data available here) to ascertain, in any given poll, who was in the top 10.[1]  The results are pretty striking in their robustness.  In spite of there being 19,448 ways to pick 10 from 17, the top 10 candidates in the final poll were in the top 10 of each of the 10 polls in 96 cases out of a possible 100.  Furthermore, in no poll was more than one of the chosen participants outside of the top 10.  Thus, there were 4 polls in which one of the debate participants was not ranked in the top 10, and 2 of these were the oldest pair in the series.

More tellingly, perhaps, is the fact that the smallest consistent “non-trivial debate group”—the smallest group of candidates that never polled at less than the size of the group in the 10 polls—is 3: Donny Trump, Jeb Bush, and Scott Walker composed the top 3 of each of the last 10 polls (that’s actually true of the last 15 polls).[2]

While I often like to be contrary in these posts, and I thought I might have an opportunity here, I have to say that, in the end, FOX News got this one right—the only direction to go in terms of tuning the size of the debate would have been down (to either 8 or 3, but I will leave 8 for a different post).  Given that logistics are the only real reason for a media outlet[3] to putatively and presumptively winnow the field of candidates in an election campaign, FOX News was, in my opinion (and possibly by luck), correct in setting the number at 10.

And, with that, I leave you with this.


[1] The oldest of these concluded two weeks ago, on July 20th.

[2] The reason I refer to a non-trivial debate group is that Donald Trump composes the smallest consistent debate group: he has held the number 1 spot in the past 16 polls. I will leave to the side the question of whether Trump debating himself would be informative or interesting.  I just don’t know if he is enough of a master debater, though I suspect that he loves to master debates.  Who doesn’t?

[3] Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that Facebook is involved with organizing the debate. See what I did there?!?