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A Spot Of Good News For Gary Johnson’s Debate Dream

A spot of polling news out Monday will satisfy those who have been champing at the bit to know, amidst this hazy August sea of vacation and relaxation, exactly what polls the Commission on Presidential Debates will use to decide who makes the cut for this fall’s televised verbal sparring matches.

The pollsters that will determine who gets to be on stage come September and October are ABC News/Washington Post, CBS News/New York Times, CNN, Fox News and NBC News/Wall Street Journal. Seems about right, given that these outfits are well respected, the fab five of polling, if you will (and I will). All get solid grades in our pollster ratings. (In order to make the cut, the commission has stipulated that candidates must be polling at 15 percent.)

What’s interesting, though, is that these polls all tend to show Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein doing a tad better than in polls not being used by the commission.

Johnson reaches nearly 10 percent support in an average of the most recent commission-approved polls, while Stein is seeing numbers at about 4.5 percent. In non-commission polls, Johnson is looking at an 8 percent average and Stein 3 percent. (All polls used in this average were conducted since the conclusion of the conventions.)

The commission polls may be showing better numbers for Johnson and Stein because they all use live interviewers. If you forget about the commission and just look at live-interview polls vs. online and robo-polls, you see a similar — though smaller — gap.

This is happy-ish news for Johnson, who is seen as having the better chance of making the polling threshold, but, to point out the obvious here: He’s still not near 15 percent. The Libertarian has been holding pretty steady in our average of national polls, never rising above 11 percent. And Johnson knows more than anyone else how important it is to crack the 15 percent ceiling. As Johnson told me when I profiled him in June, “The only chance to get elected is to be in the presidential debates.”

Of course, Johnson and Stein’s support could rise in the coming months. The commission won’t apply the polling numbers until mid-September, and it will be re-applied between each of the three debates, just in case anyone takes a precipitous rise or tumble in the polls.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s teams will no doubt be rooting to keep any potential spoiler candidates away from the limelight; as with swan-boating, two’s company, three’s a crowd and four sinks the whole operation.

Dhrumil Mehta contributed research.

Clare Malone is a former senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.