As the primary season draws nearer, candidates will need to reach the highest thresholds yet to have a podium on November’s debate stage. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) released qualification criteria Monday morning, and while the polling requirements have been raised, candidates have an additional route to reach them. Let’s dive in.
In order to qualify for the fifth debate, candidates must meet one of two polling criteria and the unique donor requirement. Candidates meet the polling requirement when they either reach at least 3% in four DNC-approved polls, national or state, or reach at least 5% in two early polling states (IA/NH/SC/NV). For the two previous debates, candidates only needed 2% in four national or early state polls. The donor threshold asks candidates to receive donations from at least 165,000 unique donors and at least 600 donors from 20 different states. The per-state requirement is up from 400 last debate, and total unique donor requirement went up from 130,000.
Also new this round is the “Early State Polling Threshold,” which gives candidates with less national name recognition a better shot at making the debates. The people at the top of the pack (Biden, Sanders, Warren, etc.) have been in the media spotlight for at least the last four years, while other candidates are only just introducing themselves to the American general electorate. It should come as no shock that a former vice president polls higher than a sitting House representative, and this new rule helps the candidates who put the groundwork in the early states.
Perhaps the DNC felt the need to shake up the requirements after all the ire they have drawn from candidates and voters alike. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Gov. Steve Bullock, and billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer have all made statements calling for changes to the DNC’s process. A July Business Insider poll found that 25% of Sanders-supporting respondents had either “no faith” or “not a lot of faith” in the DNC’s process, with Yang and Gabbard’s supporters reporting even less faith. That Gabbard supporters mistrust the DNC should come as no surprise, as the veteran congresswoman made headlines in 2016 when she resigned as Vice-Chair to endorse Bernie Sanders.
Candidates on the margins have much to lose if they don’t make the debates. Despite Andrew Yang’s reality show comparison, they still offer a chance to speak to the electorate directly and differentiate themselves from the pack. Debates offer “breakout” moments that can see a candidate surge in the polls. Alternatively, gaffs or strategic missteps can set one back on favorability or electability. Julian Castro’s controversial fight with Joe Biden over healthcare may have hurt him enough to miss the next debate.
Eleven candidates have secured a place on the fourth debate stage, with Tulsi Gabbard only one poll short. Five candidates (Biden, Buttigieg, Harris, Sanders, and Warren) have qualified from the seven polls released in the polling window so far, with Yang and Booker both at three polls. Eleven candidates have met the donor requirement so far, with Cory Booker falling short. With such high polling requirements, candidates in the bottom of the polls are beginning to feel the heat. With DeBlasio dropping out last week, one can only wonder which one is next.
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