The University of North Florida (UNF) Public Opinion Research Lab (PORL) is under fire for conducting a poll of head-to-head matchups between Donald Trump and Democratic candidates with one notable exception — Bernie Sanders. The UNF polled potential matchups of Trump vs. Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Kamala Harris. They also polled Warren and Biden vs. Vice President Mike Pence.
Sanders supporters were quick to ask why Sanders had been excluded from the poll, despite the fact that he’s polling in a stronger position than both Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris.
In response to the criticism, PORL Faculty Director Michael Binder stated:
As [with] all polls, it’s a balance between number of questions and length of survey. I made a call to include the top two candidates and then two others that may provide some interest to the public and are in potentially different positions – Buttigieg is rising and Harris has stalled. I think the real value of the data is that they are all pretty darn close in the head to head. We only polled Biden and Warren vs. Pence, again leaning on the top 2 as the cut point. If you’re concerned that Sanders is left out, by that rationale any poll that leaves out Bennet, Booker, or Steyer in a series of head to heads is just as problematic. Obviously this wasn’t a Democratic primary poll, we’ll be conducting one of those in [South Carolina] in a couple weeks and that will include all the active Dem candidates.
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Binder added on Twitter that Buttigieg and Harris were selected because PORL wanted to see how candidates with “different diversity” would fare.
In my view, there are a handful of problems with Binder’s rationale. First, Binder forms a subjective opinion that surveying Buttigieg and Harris would provide some nebulous public interest that Sanders wouldn’t. However, one could reasonably argue that polling Sanders would have more public interest — he just posted the strongest Q3 fundraising numbers of any candidate, recovered from a heart attack, and received endorsements from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar.
Second, Binder concedes that this isn’t a Democratic primary poll, yet he uses rationale (inaccurate as it may be) based on Democratic primary polling to justify including Buttigieg and Harris, but not Sanders.
Third, Buttigieg isn’t rising. As 538’s Nate Silver points out, Buttigieg’s “rise” in Iowa isn’t really a rise. He has been polling around 13% in Iowa for some time and his national numbers are mostly flat.
Fourth, Harris hasn’t stalled — her numbers have plummeted since the second Democratic debate. Ironically, Sanders is a great example of a candidate who has stalled in the polls. He has been polling around 16% nationally with no major bumps or dips since early May. However, a recent national poll conducted by Emerson shows Sanders in a strong second place at 25%, just two percent behind Joe Biden.
Fifth, Bernie Sanders is Jewish. The only other Jewish candidate in the race is Marianne Williamson. The United States has never had a Jewish President. Apparently the “differently diverse” standard didn’t apply to Bernie Sanders.
The UNF PORL poll shows Warren and Biden lead both Trump and Pence head-to-head, while Trump holds narrow leads over Buttigieg and Harris.
A September Florida poll conducted by Florida Atlantic University showed Sanders trailing Trump by 1% in Florida.