UPDATE (Aug. 29, 2019, 7:55 a.m.): Two new DNC-approved polls came out Wednesday morning — one from USA Today/Suffolk and one from Quinnipiac University — but neither changed who’s qualified for the Sept. 12 debate. We’ll have one night of debating with the 10 candidates marked below.
One or two nights — that is the overriding question for the third Democratic primary debate, which is scheduled for Sept. 12 and, possibly, Sept. 13. As of Monday afternoon, exactly 10 presidential contenders have qualified to participate, and if that number stands, all 10 will be on stage at the same time and the debate will be confined to a single night. But if more than 10 candidates make it by Wednesday’s deadline, the hosts — ABC News and Univision, in partnership with the Democratic National Committee — plan to have two nights of debate, conducting a random draw this Thursday to determine each night’s lineup. While we watch for last-minute surveys to drop, here’s a look at where the candidates currently stand.
The next debate is on the verge of needing two nights
Democratic presidential candidates* by whether and how they qualified for the third primary debate, as of Aug. 26
|met threshold for|
|Candidate||No. of polls||Polls||Donors||Qualified|
|Bill de Blasio||0|
As a reminder, making the debate requires candidates to attract both 2 percent support in four qualifying national or early-state polls released between June 28 and Aug. 28 and collect contributions from 130,000 unique donors (including at least 400 individual donors in at least 20 states).1 Since our last update, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro became the 10th candidate to qualify for the stage when he got his fourth poll on Aug. 20. The latest qualifying survey — a national poll from Monmouth University released this afternoon — did not add any new candidates to the stage, but it did give author and motivational speaker Marianne Williamson her first qualifying poll. Outside of the 10 qualifiers, four other active candidates now have gotten at least one qualifying survey — Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, billionaire activist Tom Steyer and Williamson. Of those on the bubble, Steyer is closest to making the stage while the other three need more help.
Despite only announcing his bid in early July, Steyer has quickly put himself in a position to make the third debate by using his massive personal wealth and the contact lists of his grassroots organizations Need To Impeach and NextGen. Steyer announced earlier this month that he had accrued 130,000 individual donors, and he has already spent millions on digital and television ads, primarily in early-voting states like Iowa and South Carolina. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that all three of Steyer’s qualifying polls are from those two early states while he has yet to register more than 1 percent in a national qualifying poll.
As for the candidates that could fall short of making the debate, some, like Gabbard, are displeased with the qualification rules. Gabbard’s campaign has claimed that she’s received at least 2 percent support in more than 20 polls released since the second debate, but only two of those surveys are from pollsters sanctioned by the DNC. Among her campaign’s complaints are that the DNC’s rules about which polls will be counted aren’t very consistent: Some highly-rated polling organizations were left off the DNC’s list, and some surveys were excluded despite being sponsored by notable media organizations. For example, state-level polls conducted by online pollster YouGov on behalf of CBS News have been counted — which is approved by the DNC — while national YouGov polls sponsored by The Economist have not.
Williamson announced last week that she had surpassed the donor threshold for the third debate, and today’s Monmouth poll gave her one qualifying poll. She still needs three more surveys to qualify, which is unlikely to happen before Wednesday’s deadline, so it’s unclear what her next steps might be. Gillibrand, too, is hoping for three more qualifying polls. The New York senator might get to 130,000 donors by Wednesday — she announced last week that she had 115,000 — but she might not even make it that far. Some of her former staffers have said that she should abandon her presidential bid, and in an interview with the Washington Post last week, Gillibrand said she was receptive to the idea of serving as vice president. So it’s possible the end is nigh for her campaign.
Of the remaining six candidates that FiveThirtyEight considers “major,” none appear to be remotely close to qualifying for the third debate. And the question now is whether they, too, will join the recent wave of campaign departures, which has included three candidates in the last two weeks. All the candidates can do now is wait and see if any polls will be released before the Wednesday deadline. And for debate watchers, a last-minute poll could make the difference between one debate night with 10 candidates and two smaller, separate events with five or six candidates on stage. Time will tell.