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Lindsey Graham Might Not Even Make The Next JV Debate

UPDATE (Oct 20, 7:13 a.m.): Lindsey Graham is in! He received 1 percent in a poll released by CNN on Tuesday and is now eligible for CNBC’s JV debate.

The Donald Trump Show — excuse me — the third Republican primary debate will air Oct. 28 on CNBC. And like all highly rated television shows, it’s bringing back most of your favorite characters. The two notable exceptions are Scott Walker and possibly Lindsey Graham. Walker dropped out of the race Sept. 21. Graham, who has yet to make a main debate stage, is now in danger of missing out on the junior varsity (or undercard) debate.

The main CNBC presidential debate is likely to feature Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Trump. This lineup is based off of the criteria set by CNBC: In order to make the main debate, the “candidates must stand at an average of 2.5 percent in the national polls by NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Fox News and Bloomberg – released from Sept. 17 to Oct. 21.”

To make the JV debate, a candidate has to hit 1 percent in any one of those polls.

Right now, here’s where the candidates stand in an average of the polls matching these requirements:

Donald Trump 23.8%
Ben Carson 18.7
Carly Fiorina 9.5
Marco Rubio 9.3
Jeb Bush 8.3
Ted Cruz 7.2
Mike Huckabee 3.5
Chris Christie 3.2
John Kasich 3.2
Rand Paul 3.0
Rick Santorum 0.7
Bobby Jindal 0.5
George Pataki 0.3
Jim Gilmore 0.0
Lindsey Graham 0.0

All the candidates slated to make the varsity debate stand at 3 percent or more, making it unlikely that any of them will fall below the cutoff. And Bobby Jindal, George Pataki and Rick Santorum have each hit 1 percent in at least one survey; they’re safely in the JV debate.

Lindsey Graham, however, hasn’t hit 1 percent in any one of these polls. So unless a new CNBC-approved poll is released by Wednesday that shows him with at least 1 percent, Graham is going to have to watch this debate at home with prolific debate tweeter Jim Gilmore. I’ve never thought much of Graham’s chances, but getting dropped from the undercard would be the ultimate insult to a sitting U.S. senator.

Graham’s candidacy has clearly failed to catch on, but this is also another example of the arbitrary nature of using polls as your debate criteria. Graham would make the CNBC debate if it used the same criteria as CNN’s Republican debate. Graham hit 1 percent in a Suffolk University/USA Today poll released Sept. 30, and USA Today-sponsored polls were included in the CNN debate average.1


  1. Pew Research Center polls were also included in the CNN average, and Graham got 1 percent in a Pew poll released Oct. 2, though that poll used an open-ended question technique instead of multiple choice.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.