"The selection rules the commission just announced seem reasonable, in one sense, and not obviously designed to undercut a third-party run. It will use polls released by the five major television news networks: ABC/Washington Post, NBC/Wall Street Journal, CBS/New York Times, CNN and Fox News. These are the same five polls that were used in 2012, except last time Gallup was used instead of CNN. (Gallup, you may recall, predicted a Mitt Romney victory in 2012, then published what was dubbed a “mea culpa” exploring why its likely voter model was so wrong. This election cycle, Gallup hasn’t done any trial heats, taking itself off the table.)
Third parties should be further pleased that all of those organizations have been including third-party candidates in their polling. A perennial complaint has been that third-party candidates can’t get to 15 percent in polls if they aren’t even mentioned in the polls as the campaign develops. But ABC/Washington Post, NBC/Wall Street Journal and CNN have been running four-way trial heats, while CBS/New York Times and Fox News have done three-way polls that include Johnson’s name. And upon the commission’s announcement, Fox News said it would include Stein in subsequent polls. That means at least four of the five will include all four candidates.
That’s what hurts Johnson, however. As the former New Mexico governor picks up Republicans alienated by Trump — and even picks up some progressives excited about his anti-war, pro-marijuana and civil liberties stances — his numbers have been climbing into the range where the debate feels like a possibility. When Stein is left out of the polls, Johnson isn’t far short of the 15 percent bar — he hit 12 percent in the last Fox News and CBS/New York Times polls. (A late July CBS poll, sans New York Times sponsorship but using the same pollster, has Johnson at 10.) But in the most recent polls from the three media outlets tapped by the commission which have been running four-way trial heats, Johnson comes in at 8, 9 or 10, while Stein averages 5. Johnson performs just a bit worse with Stein in the mix, but in the race for 15, every inch counts. And Stein, who would need to triple her support to secure an invite, is taking an inch or two from Johnson."