Fox News, which is hosting the debate on Thursday, chose the politicians receiving the most support in an average of recent surveys, with the remaining seven consigned to a separate forum. But a new HuffPost/YouGov poll, which instead directly asked Republicans to pick up to 10 different candidates they'd like to see debate, found slightly different results.
While they agree with the top eight contenders, rank-and-file Republicans say they'd swap out the two lowest-polling candidates included, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Instead, they'd rather watch two politicians who missed the cut: former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and businesswoman Carly Fiorina.
Christie is disliked by a sizeable fraction of his own party, many of whom who don't see him as adequately conservative; Kasich, meanwhile, remains unknown to most in the GOP.
Perry, whose already-struggling candidacy during the last election went into a tailspin following his calamitous debate performance in November 2011, has gained little traction this time around. But while few Republicans call him their first choice, he remains broadly popular among his party. Two recent surveys, from Quinnipiac and YouGov, put his favorable rating within the GOP at 53 percent and 55 percent, respectively.
“One debate won’t make or break a candidate,” he told Fox News.
While Fiorina has also shrugged off her exclusion from the debate, citing her limited name recognition, Republicans' desire to have her onstage may have something to do with the fact that the slate of debaters will be entirely male -- an optics issue that has even spurred some of her rivals' supporters to argue for her inclusion.
“I want to have a woman showcased, and I don’t want her shunted aside. The Republican Party really needs diversity,” Paul Clark, who is working for Christie, told Yahoo.
Exactly how vital securing a spot on stage will be to any candidate's chances remains to be seen. As a rule, general election debates, no matter how hard-fought, don't tend to be game changers: by that time in the campaign cycle, voters have mostly made up their minds about both candidates. Last election's lengthy succession of Republican primary debates didn't seem to have much of an effect either, as Real Clear Politics' David Byler points out.
This year's record-sized field, however, means would-be voters are barely acquainted with many candidates. There's also relatively little establishment consensus on the candidates, with endorsements slow to roll in and even the most-tuned in party activists still deeply divided.
Against that backdrop, the debate, as well as the coverage it generates, could give candidates a chance to break out from the pack with a memorable performance -- whether it's by soaring or by completely tanking.
In the HuffPost/YouGov poll, 61 percent of Republican voters said that primary debates are a good way to get to know the candidates, while just 25 percent describe them as a waste of time and money.
It's hard to estimate how many will actually watch the debate, since people are more likely to tell pollsters they'll tune in than to actually do so. But many GOP voters are at least considering tuning in: 42 percent said they're excited to watch, while another 38 percent said they aren't excited but will probably watch anyway.
Relatively few, though, expect to come away from the debate with a new favorite candidate. Just 35 percent of Republicans voters who say they might watch the debate think it could change their views about any of the candidates. The majority, 50 percent, expect it will mostly confirm what they already think.
The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted August 3-5 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 polls' 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.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that John Kasich is the former governor of Ohio. He is the state's current governor.