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Who Will Make The Fourth Democratic Debate?

If you thought all the remaining primary debates were going to be one-night affairs, think again. On Sunday, billionaire activist Tom Steyer got his fourth qualifying poll thanks to an early-state survey from Nevada, which means 11 candidates have now met the polling and donor thresholds for the Democrats’ fourth debate. And Tulsi Gabbard has announced that, based on one subset of respondents, she got a third qualifying poll this weekend, but the Democratic National Committee has confirmed that it is looking at different set of respondents and the poll will not count for her.

The fourth debate is scheduled for Oct. 15 and possibly Oct. 16 (the DNC hasn’t yet confirmed whether it will use a second debate night now that more than 10 candidates have qualified). The qualification thresholds are the same as those for the third debate: Candidates must attract both 2 percent support in four qualifying national or early-state polls released between June 28 and Oct. 1, and collect contributions from 130,000 unique donors (including at least 400 individual donors in at least 20 states).1 Given these rules, the 10 candidates who qualified for the third debate automatically made the fourth debate. And a CBS News/YouGov poll was the last survey Steyer needed to qualify.

The Democrats may need two debate nights in October

Democratic presidential candidates* by whether and how they have qualified for the fourth primary debate, as of Sept. 9

MET THRESHOLD FOR …
Candidate No. of Polls Polls Donors Qualified
Joe Biden 16
Pete Buttigieg 16
Kamala Harris 16
Bernie Sanders 16
Elizabeth Warren 16
Cory Booker 13
Beto O’Rourke 12
Andrew Yang 7
Julián Castro 6
Amy Klobuchar 6
Tom Steyer 4
Tulsi Gabbard 2
Marianne Williamson 1
Michael Bennet 0
Steve Bullock 0
Bill de Blasio 0
John Delaney 0
Tim Ryan 0
Joe Sestak 0

*For candidates considered “major” by FiveThirtyEight.

To qualify for the fourth debate, a candidate must reach 2 percent in at least four national or early-state polls from qualifying polling organizations and must have at least 130,000 unique donors, including at least 400 donors in at least 20 states. Information released by campaigns is used to determine whether a candidate has hit the donor threshold. If a campaign announced it had reached 130,000 donors but did not say whether it had at least 400 donors in 20 states, we assumed that it had met the latter requirement as well. Because the DNC has confirmed their participation, we now know for sure that all the candidates in September’s debate have met the donor requirement, leaving Tom Steyer as the only candidate for whom we do not have external confirmation of that metric.

SOURCES: POLLS, MEDIA REPORTS

But while Steyer is in, Gabbard remains two polls shy despite some controversy. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll released this weekend, Gabbard had 1 percent support among all adult respondents but 2 percent among registered voters. The DNC’s policy is to use a poll’s top-line number, which in this case was the support among all adults, as it appeared first in the survey. This has come up before: In a previous ABC News/Washington Post survey, the DNC likewise used the percentage among adults. The DNC confirmed to FiveThirtyEight on Sunday that the number for all adults (where Gabbard got 1 percent) would be the one that counts this time, too.

That doesn’t mean that Gabbard is going to let it go — her campaign has expressed frustration with the DNC’s polling standards in the past — and on Sunday afternoon, well after the poll’s release, Gabbard tweeted that the survey was her third poll, despite the DNC’s clarification. With less than a month to go until the deadline for qualification for the fourth debate, every poll really does count, and Gabbard is going to need all the help she can get.

Footnotes

  1. We rely on self-reported figures from the campaigns for candidates’ fundraising numbers, and we’ve assumed that candidates who have reported having at least 130,000 donors also have at least 400 donors from each of 20 states, though it’s possible that some of them haven’t hit that mark yet. Because the DNC has confirmed their participation, we now know for sure that all the candidates in September’s debate have met the donor requirement, leaving Steyer as the only candidate for whom we do not have external confirmation of that metric.

Geoffrey Skelley is an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

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