The answer was interesting:
Hi [name redacted]
Gallup makes decisions on possible inclusion of third party candidates in its trial heat ballot testing based on a number of criteria. Gallup’s default position is to include only the two major party candidates, and to consider inclusion of one or more of the many third party and independent candidates only when there is compelling evidence that they are significant factors in the campaign. In large part, Gallup uses its editorial judgment as the basis for this decision-making, including assessments of news coverage of third party and independent candidates. Additionally, Gallup assesses evidence of significant voter interest in these candidates, based on responses to open-ended vote preference questions, in which any candidate or party’s name is accepted; responses to a vote preference question in which the names of all candidates who will appear on the ballot in most states are read; and measuring name identification of third party candidates. These questions help inform Gallup about the level of third-party voting and help inform Gallup about whether a third-party candidate merits inclusion in its standard presidential trial-heat question.
Gallup has yet to assess where third parties candidates stand on these measures in 2012 as it waits for the various third parties to decide on nominees. Gallup will begin doing so as early as next month, and will continue to look for evidence that a third party or independent candidates deserves inclusion in Gallup’s standard vote preference question going forward.
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GALLUPLet's parse this seriatem
1. Gallup's "default" is only two candidates. Why? Interesting question. Can they make a methodological case that including more candidates somehow skews the results?
2. There must be "compelling evidence" to include a third party or an independent candidate in a poll. Are we about to find out what that is?
3. Oh, the "compelling evidence" is Gallup "editorial judgment," relying heavily on "news coverage." Of course, Alyssa, one could argue that since polls actually drive coverage and analysis, that the ability to make significant inroads into news coverage hinges heavily on . . . inclusion in the polls. Circular arguments, anyone.
4. They use a certain amount of open-ended questions without party preference, like (presumably), "Who would you vote for if the presidential election were held today?" This is followed by reading the names of all ballot-qualified candidates, which automatically prejudices the poll against any candidate who has not yet finished achieving ballot access.
5. The most fascinating aspect of Alyssa's answer is this (which bears repeating):
Gallup has yet to assess where third parties candidates stand on these measures in 2012 as it waits for the various third parties to decide on nominees.Except, ah, Alyssa, the Libertarians have already nominated Gary Johnson, the Greens have already nominated Jill Stein, and the Constitution Party has already nominated Virgil Goode.
But we do learn something very important: it is at the beginning or middle of June that Gallup will make its decision about who should be covered in polling questions.
That means that news coverage over the next three weeks is critical.