The RNC rejected a Victory Insights poll, denying Perry Johnson a debate invite. Why?
Perry Johnson. Image via AP.

Perry Johnson
The party didn't consider it a national poll because it surveyed too few states.

The big news from Victory Insights last national poll was Donald Trump’s growing lead on Ron DeSantis among GOP voters. But for supporters of low-profile contender Perry Johnson, it briefly looked like the poll could bring him to the debate stage.

Instead, when the Republican National Committee (RNC) announced invitees to Wednesday night’s sanctioned debate in Milwaukee, Johnson failed to make the cut. Why? The pollster was told its poll had not surveyed voters in enough states.

“Now they are saying this didn’t qualify as a national poll. I viciously disagree with that,” said Matt Hurley, the Naples-based co-founder of Victory Insights.

Officials at the RNC have not responded to a request for comment on the decision.

The last Victory Insights nation poll, released on Aug. 18, found Johnson polling at 1.1%. That put the little-known candidate in eighth place among Republican candidates in the survey, potentially further if you consider “someone else” earned 2.3% of the vote.

But it nevertheless counted as good news for Johnson, who has fought for a spot on stage for a nationally televised debate and a chance to improve name recognition over candidates holding public office.

RNC debate requirements demand a candidate demonstrate 1% support in at least three national polls or in two national and two early state polls. Johnson announced Friday he had qualified for the debate. A statement to The Detroit News cited poll results from Victory Insights, Trafalgar Group and Emerson College.

“There has been a flood of polling in the last 72 hours that meet the RNC’s requirements and qualify me for the debate stage,” Johnson said in a statement. “Therefore, I will be at the debate in Milwaukee and look forward to sharing my Two Cents Plan to Save America which will balance the budget and secure the border.”

But the RNC rejected the Victory Insights poll. Hurley said the RNC had called the firm for details on its methodology, and didn’t raise any immediate concerns. But later, the party rejected the poll because it only included respondents from 38 states.

Johnson said he will show up anyway. “The debate process has been corrupted, plain and simple. Our campaign hit every metric put forward by the RNC and we have qualified for the debate. We’ll be in Milwaukee Wednesday and will have more to say tomorrow,” Johnson posted on X.

Hurley defended the methodology.

“Many states don’t make up one-fiftieth of the population of the United States,” Hurley said.

He notes it’s illegal to poll in North Dakota, yet North Dakota Gov. Doug Burnum did make the list of candidates appearing at the first debate.

Hurley said the poll wasn’t done in support of any campaign. He has been somewhat surprised at the controversy around the survey. Johnson’s support falls within the poll’s 3.5-percentage-point margin of error. But the same can be said for U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and former Vice President Mike Pence, all of whom were invited to the debate.

“I don’t know where all these undercard candidates are polling except to say it is somewhere between 0 and 3%,” he said. “Trump is polling between 58% and 62%. I assure you that’s the more important metric.”

Of course, the lower-tier candidate’s polling performance can depend on whether pollsters even include them as an option.

The Victory Insights poll used a handful of combined methodologies to collect results, including automated phone calls. Those limit the number of options that can be assigned a key to press on a phone. In this case, Johnson was an option. Other candidates seeking a spot on stage, including Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Burnum were not, though Hurley said they have been included in prior polls.

Hurley said the decision to include Johnson was based on investment and campaigning done by Johnson in New Hampshire and Iowa.

“Of the completely unknown people in the race, he is spending on mass media in those first states. He has an actual staff. He seems to have an actual game plan,” Hurley said.

What frustrated Hurley the most about the poll’s rejection, though, is that the RNC seems to be applying criteria that was never spelled out, and is doing so only because the polling firm was transparent about how it conducted its poll. The fact voters were surveyed in just 38 states is spelled out in a polling memo published by Victory Insights. He suspects many of the polls accepted by the RNC may have surveyed voters in fewer states, but few disclose that information.

More importantly, the RNC never announced a minimum threshold of states for what constitutes a reputable poll.

“If that’s a metric, it should be included in the polling metrics,” Hurley said. “We want to be seen as a reputable firm.”

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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