Republicans Are Fine With Capping Their Debates At 10 Candidates

05/27/2015 05:18 pm ET | Updated May 27, 2015

Fox News' decision last week to limit the first Republican debate to the top 10 performers in national surveys generated some unhappiness from party leaders and candidates. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who's currently averaging below 2 percent in the polls, described the rules as "arbitrary" and "not legitimate," while neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who's doing somewhat better, still urged the Republican National Committee to "find a format that allows every voice to be heard."

Rank-and-file Republicans, though, mostly agree with the network's decision. In a new HuffPost/YouGov poll, 52 percent say they'd rather see a debate between only the 10 candidates who are doing best in the polls. Just 32 percent think every candidate should be included, with the rest unsure.

Just a few years ago, Santorum and Carson would have had the public on their side. In a 2007 Fox News poll, two-thirds of American voters said that primary debates should include every candidate who's running, rather than just the "main" ones. But while GOP voters this year are generally happy with their presidential options, a significant fraction say there are too many Republican candidates in the field.

The candidates will be chosen based on "an average of the five most recent national polls by Aug. 4 at 5 p.m. Eastern time... conducted by major, nationally recognized organizations that use standard methodological techniques," according to The Washington Post.

Going by the current polls, that could knock out GOP contenders like Santorum, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.), former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). But the field is likely to change between now and summer, especially since the candidates hovering around 10th place have an incentive to buy national ad time and pick fights with higher-ranked rivals as a way to try and score a timely boost at the polls.

When ordinary Republicans are asked whom they'd like to see in the debates, the answers largely, but don't entirely, mirror the current polls -- and suggest that at least some Republicans are concerned the debate could omit the GOP's only current female contender.

Given the opportunity to select up to 10 candidates, a majority or near-majority of Republicans chose Carson, Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.), and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.). More than one-third of respondents also wanted to hear from former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.), former Sen. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.) and former Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas), as well as from Fiorina, who regularly takes 1 percent or less in horse-race polls.

Govs. Jindal and Chris Christie (R-N.J.), together with Santorum, were locked in a tie for that coveted 10th spot, while Graham and Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) shared the dubious honor of trailing behind businessman Donald Trump (R-Not Actually Running).

As of now, it seems that most Republicans are less than enthusiastic about the start of debate season. While a 52 percent majority agrees that primary debates are a good way to get to know the candidates, just 26 percent say they're excited about watching. Another 50 percent say they aren't excited but might watch, while the rest are unlikely to do so.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted May 23-25 among U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here. More details on the poll's methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov's reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample, rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

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