Belated happy new year, and, perhaps more importantly, happy GOP Debate night! Only seven candidates made the cut for the main stage, based on polling averages nationally and in Iowa and New Hampshire. The primetime show will feature Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Ben Carson.

Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul — two former main-stagers who had each been spared demotion by CNN at prior debates — have been dropped to the second-tier debate. Paul, for his part, has declined to participate in the undercard event.

Much ink has been spilled by pundits and pollsters alike about the wisdom (or folly) of using polling to determine debate eligibility. It does seem unfair to exclude a candidate based on what could be matter of rounding, or a handful of individual respondents in one or two polls.

So we at MPG have come up with a modest proposal that keeps all the candidates on stage but still reflects their relative positions in the polls, since that seems to be important to debate sponsors.


Each candidate’s podium height is to scale with their average level of support in the polls. We’re not sure this arrangement would make for a more substantive discussion, but it certainly would be something to look at. And it would be just as fair as including or excluding candidates based on what may be rounding errors.


We’ve been busy writing since our last Topline. Here’s our latest analysis for WBUR and NHPR.

In N.H. Democratic Primary, Small Towns Gain Electoral Sway
“For the past several decades, the influence of New Hampshire’s big cities has been waning in the Democratic contest, while small-and medium-sized towns have been gaining sway. These shifts are significant enough that they’re changing how Democrats campaign in the Granite State.”

“SEC Primary”? More Like March Madness
“Catchy as the name is, it’s not a good fit, for two reasons. First, it understates the considerable influence of the non-SEC states voting that same day. Second, winning the “SEC states” voting on March 1 has not meant that much during the last few nomination cycles.”

New Hampshire “Pollmageddon”? Not Yet
“The game, at this stage, is just about the same as in past years. The difference in total polls comes from the fact that pollsters started surveying New Hampshire earlier, not that they are polling any more often at this point.”

Baker’s Amazing Popularity Goes Far Beyond The Economy
“But Baker’s popularity far exceeds what would be expected based on the economy alone. Massachusetts has the 22nd lowest unemployment rate, according to the latest federal data, and for 2014 had the 15th highest GDP growth. Both of these marks are above average, but not extraordinary.”

In GOP Primary, “Insiders” Are Doing Better Than You Might Think
“After a summer when political neophytes pulled the lion’s share of support, the last few weeks of New Hampshire polling have seen a resurgence by ‘insider’ candidates.”

Luck Of The Draw: Why Ballot Order Matters
“There have been scores of academic papers about whether being the first name voters see conveys a meaningful advantage. The short answer is yes, and by enough to make a meaningful difference, or even tip the balance in a tight race.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Nerd Alert Tearline – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

NHPR Launches new elections stats database
Our partner New Hampshire Public Radio has teamed up Civera Software to make the state’s past election results available online in a searchable and downloadable format. Civera is the firm behind the Massachusetts elections database, which we have used to write many of our analytical pieces for WBUR and CommonWealth magazine. We’ve already started to mine the new website for insights, and plan on writing much more using it between now and primary day.

Correction: A previous version of this article did not include Jeb Bush in the list of candidates in the main stage debate. We apologize for the omission.