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Five Democrats Have Qualified For The January Debate — Who Else Might Make It?

When it comes to presidential primary debates, there’s no holiday break. The sixth Democratic debate took place just last night, but today the Democratic National Committee released the qualification rules for the seventh debate, which will take place on Jan. 14 in Iowa.

To qualify, candidates need to reach 5 percent support in at least four national or early-state polls, or 7 percent support in at least two early-state polls, from qualifying polling organizations released between Nov. 14 and Jan. 10.1 But candidates must also have at least 225,000 unique donors, including at least 1,000 donors in at least 20 states or territories.2 Based on what we know, five candidates have already made the January stage.

Five candidates have made the January debate

Democratic presidential candidates* by whether and how they have qualified for the seventh primary debate, as of Dec. 20

NO. OF QUALIFYING POLLS MET THRESHOLD FOR …
CANDIDATE All ≥ 5% EARLY STATE ≥7% POLLS 225K+ DONORS QUALIFIED
Joe Biden 14 7
Bernie Sanders 14 7
Elizabeth Warren 14 7
Pete Buttigieg 14 6
Amy Klobuchar 4 0
Michael Bloomberg 5 0
Andrew Yang 1 0
Cory Booker 0 0
Tom Steyer 2 0
Michael Bennet 0 0
Julián Castro 0 0
John Delaney 0 0
Tulsi Gabbard 0 0
Deval Patrick 0 0
Marianne Williamson 0 0

*For candidates considered “major” by FiveThirtyEight.

To qualify for the seventh debate, a candidate must reach 5 percent support in at least four national or early-state polls or 7 percent support in at least two early-state polls from qualifying polling organizations. Candidates must also have at least 225,000 unique donors, including at least 1,000 donors in at least 20 states or territories. Information released by campaigns is used to determine whether a candidate has hit the donor threshold. If a campaign announced it had reached 225,000 donors but did not say whether it had at least 1,000 donors in 20 states or territories, we assumed that it had met the latter requirement as well.

Sources: POLLS, CAMPAIGNS, MEDIA REPORTS

The four candidates leading the polls nationally and in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg — all easily made the seventh debate. But Sen. Amy Klobuchar, too, has already qualified — she’s hit at least 5 percent in just enough polls and her campaign says she has the donors.

For the other two candidates on stage Thursday night — tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang and billionaire activist Tom Steyer — the new requirements appear reachable but aren’t a sure thing. Steyer already has two qualifying polls and had 200,000 donors for the last debate, so getting two more polls and 25,000 more donors is plausible. However, Steyer hasn’t had a qualifying poll of at least 5 percent since just before the Nov. 20 debate. That’s partly because he’s been stronger in early-state polls, and every qualifying poll released in the past month has been a national survey. As for Yang, he has the donors but only one poll of 5 percent or better. Yang hit the 5 percent mark only once for the sixth debate, so he’s going to need to improve his polling numbers to get three more.

Besides the seven candidates from the sixth debate, there’s one who’s hit the polling threshold and one who has enough donors, but it’s not clear either stands much chance of qualifying. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is skipping the early states, but his standing in national polls — aided by his massive ad spending — got him past the polling requirement. Bloomberg, however, has said he’s not seeking donations, which may make it impossible for him to make the debate. Meanwhile, Sen. Cory Booker’s campaign said last week that it had more than 230,000 individual donors, so he’s in the same position as before the last debate — he has enough contributors but no polls. And if Booker couldn’t get a single 4 percent poll for the December debate, it’s hard to see him getting enough 5 percent polls for the January event.

Additionally, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard may well meet the donor threshold — both had 200,000 donors by the last debate — but face longer odds on the polling front. However, Gabbard was only one poll shy of qualifying for the sixth debate, so she could still have a chance. Castro, on the other hand, didn’t get a single qualifying poll for December, and he last made a debate in October.

Seven candidates were on stage Thursday night. And as five candidates have already qualified for the January debate, the DNC’s rules may not do much to winnow the field. In fact, there could be a flurry of polls as we enter the new year and approach Iowa, which could give the remaining candidates plenty of chances to meet the polling requirement, including ones who didn’t qualify for this week’s debate. In other words, even though voting starts in about a month and a half, the January debate could be just as crowded as the December one.

Footnotes

  1. For the early-state threshold, multiple polls from the same pollster in the same state count.

  2. 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 225,000 donors overall also have at least 1,000 donors from each of 20 states or territories.

Geoffrey Skelley is an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

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