Close Close

Independent Candidates and Monmouth Polling

by Patrick Murray

We have received more than a few – largely polite – inquiries from supporters of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. about their candidate not being included in our most recent 2024 presidential election poll. Here is a quick rundown of our decision process.

Monmouth’s objective in its polling enterprise is to measure public sentiment and behavior in order to shed light on the country’s priorities and motivations – without the poll itself becoming the story. Recently, Monmouth changed the way we ask about general election candidate support, starting with the 2022 midterm elections in Georgia and Pennsylvania. This was an attempt at moving away from the ever-worsening “horse race” obsession in media coverage. As such, we looked for a way to be able to put a pin in support levels for competing candidates without becoming fodder for the reductionist, crystal-ball-gazing take on polls that is prevalent today. Our 2022 experience suggests that this alternative question mode does a good job of tapping voter motivation and commitment along with reflecting the standing of the election race itself. [I’ll have more to say about the supposed sanctity of the traditional “head-to-head” voter intent question later this cycle.]

Returning to the matter at hand. We included a question about potential support for Kennedy as an independent presidential candidate in our April and December national polls (although not in our February poll). We wanted to test the possible impact Kennedy might have in the race vis-à-vis the leading contenders for the two major party nominations. With the end of the primary season, we are now moving from this more hypothetical territory into the heat of the actual campaign. At this time, Kennedy has attained ballot access in only a handful of states. As such, his actual impact could be overstated in a poll of a national electorate if he is not on the ballot nationwide. He may yet achieve 50-state – or near to that – ballot access. Our rule is to include viable, funded candidates in states where they appear on the ballot. The inclusion of all third party and independent candidates will be reevaluated each time we poll.

Now, I understand the immediate consternation of Kennedy supporters is the polling requirement for getting into the presidential debate later this month. The argument is that by leaving Kennedy off the poll, Monmouth has deprived him of the opportunity to score enough support to make the debate stage. Indeed, if that were the case, we may have made a different editorial decision in line with our intention of not becoming part of the story. However, Monmouth’s polls do not count for debate qualification. Despite initially including Monmouth among the polls eligible for debate qualification, CNN has reversed that decision because we are not asking a “head to head” voter intent question. Consider this: if Monmouth’s polls were being included, our April result would have already given Kennedy his remaining qualifying poll and the matter would be moot. [Of note: the lack of ballot access in enough states to total 270 electoral votes is a bigger debate qualification hurdle for Kennedy right now.]

The bottom line is this. Monmouth decides on what topics to poll and what questions to ask without external – or for that matter, internal – interference or pressure. We do not deviate from that ethos to satisfy the needs of any political interest or individual candidate.