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16 Candidates Now Qualify For The First Democratic Primary Debates

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll of the week

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential announcement wasn’t the only big 2020 news this week: According to our research, 16 Democratic candidates have now qualified for the first two primary debates this summer, counting Biden, who only needed to enter the race to qualify, and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who was put over the top by a new survey from Reuters/Ipsos. And as a result, author Marianne Williamson has also qualified as a major candidate by FiveThirtyEight’s standards — more on how the two are connected and how she qualified in a moment. (And yes, this means we’ll have a profile on how she could win the Democratic primary next week.)

First, Ryan earned a spot on the debate stage this week by getting support from 1 percent of respondents in that Reuters/Ipsos poll. Earlier this month, he received 1 percent and 2 percent support in polls from Monmouth University and the University of New Hampshire, which is enough to get him a lectern, according to the Democratic National Committee’s rules.

This year, the DNC declared that candidates can qualify for the first two debates by earning at least 1 percent of the vote in three national or early-primary-state polls conducted by qualifying pollsters,1 or by receiving donations from at least 65,000 unique donors, including at least 200 individual donors in at least 20 states. By our count, 16 candidates have now met at least one of the two criteria, and at least six candidates have cleared both the polling and fundraising thresholds.2

Which candidates have made the primary debates?

Democratic presidential candidates or potential candidates, by qualifying criteria for the first two primary debates, as of April 25, 2019

Qualifies for debates via …
Candidate polls donors both
Pete Buttigieg
Kamala Harris
Beto O’Rourke
Bernie Sanders
Elizabeth Warren
Andrew Yang
Joe Biden
Cory Booker
Julian Castro
John Delaney
Kirsten Gillibrand
John Hickenlooper
Jay Inslee
Amy Klobuchar
Tim Ryan
Tulsi Gabbard
Seth Moulton
Eric Swalwell
Marianne Williamson

Includes candidates deemed “major” by FiveThirtyEight.

To qualify via polling, a candidate must reach 1 percent in at least three national or early-state polls from qualifying polling organizations. To qualify via donors, a candidate must have at least 65,000 unique donors with at least 200 donors in at least 20 states. Information released by campaigns is used to determine whether a candidate has hit the donor threshold.

Sources: Polls, Media reports

With the first two debates capped at 20 slots each, the stage is quickly filling up. The DNC plans to split up each debate over two consecutive nights to accommodate up to 10 candidates per night; if more than 20 candidates qualify, it will choose qualifiers based on a ranking system that incorporates both thresholds.

Second, because Ryan qualified for the debate stage (he was already a major candidate under FiveThirtyEight’s guidelines), one more person has now entered the ranks of our “major” candidates: Williamson, an author and spiritual adviser who launched her bid back in January. One of our criteria for counting someone as a major candidate relies on Google search traffic relative to the median candidate who has qualified for the debate,3 and Ryan joining the debate group changed the median, which allowed Williamson to meet a sixth criterion for being classed as major in our system.

Any candidate who meets at least six criteria at any time becomes major in our book, and anyone who meets them once can’t lose “major” status. Williamson had already met all four of our criteria related to actively running, plus she had been named as an option in at least half of recent surveys.

How we’re defining “major” presidential primary candidates

Candidates must meet the DNC’s debate qualifications via fundraising or polling OR meet at least six of these 10 criteria …

How actively the candidate is running
1. Has formally begun a campaign (not merely formed an exploratory committee)
2. Is running to win (not merely to draw attention to an issue)
3. Has hired at least three full-time staffers (or equivalents)
4. Is routinely campaigning outside of their home state*
What other people think of the candidate
5. Is included as a named option in at least half of polls*
6. Gets at least half as much media coverage as the median debate-qualified candidate*
7. Receives at least half as much Google search traffic as the median debate-qualified candidate*
8. Receives at least one endorsement from an endorser FiveThirtyEight is tracking
The candidate’s credentials
9. Has held any public office (elected or appointed)
10. Has held a major public office (president, vice president, governor, U.S. Senate, U.S. House, mayor of a city of at least 300,000 people, member of a presidential Cabinet)

The criteria are applied to the trailing 30 days.

* “Routinely campaigning” means being on the road, hosting events open to the public, for at least two weeks out of the previous 30 days. Polls include all state and national polls over the previous 30 days as tracked by FiveThirtyEight; however, each polling firm is counted only once. (If a candidate is mentioned by name in any of that polling firm’s polls over the previous 30 days, he or she counts as having been included.) Media coverage is based on the number of articles at Google search traffic is based on topic searches — rather than verbatim search strings —over the past 30 days in the United States.

Even though she’s major to us, Williamson does not seem to have qualified for the debate stage yet, as far as we can tell. She hasn’t hit 1 percent in any qualifying polls so far, but she still might be able to reach the donor threshold — as of Thursday afternoon, her campaign website claimed she was about 9,000 donors shy of 65,000. Williamson raised a little over $1.5 million in the first quarter of 2019, but the Federal Election Commission data can’t tell us how many individual donors that money came from.4 We’ll just have to see where things stand in June.

From ABC News:

Meet Marianne Williamson, spiritual guru, friend of Oprah’s, presidential candidate

Other polling bites

  • In a survey of 13,000 Americans, Morning Consult found the country is almost evenly split between people who say there is too much prejudice in the country today (52 percent) and those who say there’s too much political correctness (48 percent). But how respondents felt varied quite a bit with their party affiliation. Of those who said there is too much prejudice, 49 percent identified as Democrats while 17 percent identified as Republicans. Conversely, of those who said there is too much political correctness, 46 percent identified as Republicans vs. 18 percent who said they were Democrats.
  • A new study from the Pew Research Center found that Twitter users are younger, more educated and more Democratic-leaning than the general public. While the country’s population is split about evenly between those younger than 50 and those 50 or older, 73 percent of adult Twitter users were under 50. And although 31 percent of Americans are college graduates, 42 percent of Twitter users fell into that category. Finally, 52 percent of the country identifies as Democratic or leans toward that party, compared to 60 percent of Twitter users who said the same.
  • The Kaiser Family Foundation’s latest health care poll showed that the public remains supportive of “Medicare for All,” which Kaiser defined as a system in which all Americans get health insurance from a government plan: 56 percent of Americans favored Medicare for All, while 38 percent oppose it. That might be encouraging for some Democratic presidential candidates who have been pushing for such a plan, but they may want to proceed cautiously, as the survey also found that a majority of Democrats5 (52 percent) want Congress to focus on improving and protecting the Affordable Care Act rather than on passing a national Medicare for All plan (39 percent).
  • A new report from Gallup found that Americans were more stressed and angry than ever in 2018. When asked if they had felt certain emotions “a lot” during the previous day, 55 percent said they had been stressed, 45 percent said they had been worried, and 22 percent said they had been angry. And as it turns out, politics may have influenced some of these emotions: Americans who approved of President Trump were far less likely to be stressed (45 percent) or worried (35 percent) than those who disapproved (62 percent stressed; 51 percent worried).
  • The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the Higher Education Analytics Center at NORC took a look at American attitudes toward college admissions and found that 38 percent consider the admissions process fair while 36 percent said it was unfair — a roughly even split.
  • Another Pew survey found a split in how Democrats and Republicans view Israelis and Palestinians: 77 percent of Republicans held favorable views of Israelis while 57 percent of Democrats felt the same,6 and 32 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of Democrats had favorable opinions of Palestinians. And while 61 percent of Republicans held favorable views of the Israeli government, just 26 percent of Democrats said the same. However, neither party had favorable views of the Palestinian government — only 27 percent of Democrats and 11 percent of Republicans viewed the government favorably.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 41.5 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 53.1 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -11.6 points). At this time last week, 42.0 percent approved and 53.0 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -11.0 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 42.3 percent and a disapproval rating of 52.8 percent, for a net approval rating of -10.5 points.

Nathaniel Rakich contributed research.


  1. The DNC accepts national surveys and polls of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada. A candidate’s three polls must be conducted by different pollsters, or if by the same pollster, must cover different places.

  2. For the fundraising threshold, we rely on self-reported figures from the campaign, and we’ve assumed that candidates who’ve reported having at least 65,000 donors also have at least 200 donors from each of 20 states, though it’s possible that some of them haven’t hit that mark yet.

  3. Specifically, No. 7 in the table below: “Receives at least half as much Google search traffic as the median debate-qualified candidate.”

  4. The FEC does not require campaigns to disclose the names of donors who give a total of $200 or less in increments of $50 or less. To show that candidates have reached the donor requirements, the DNC has said would-be debaters will have to provide verifiable evidence, which they may do by authorizing fundraising vendors ActBlue or NGP VAN to share the data.

  5. Including Democratic-leaning independents.

  6. All figures include independents who leaned toward one party.

Geoffrey Skelley is a senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.