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Qualifying For The December Debate Will Be Difficult For Many Democrats

For many Democratic presidential candidates, making the debates hasn’t been all that difficult. After all, 12 candidates made the stage in October, and nine have already qualified for the November debate. But on Friday, the Democratic National Committee released its strictest qualifying criteria yet, raising both the polling and donor thresholds for the December debate. And it looks like the new rules could be a thorn in the side of many candidates who have qualified for recent debates.

To make the stage in December, candidates must attract 4 percent support in four national or early-state polls or 6 percent in two early-state polls1 between Oct. 16 and Dec. 12 and collect contributions from 200,000 unique donors (including at least 800 donors in at least 20 states or territories).2 And at this point, eight candidates have met the donor mark by our count, but only former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have qualified. Of the four qualifying polls released so far, they’re the only candidates to have reached 4 percent in all four (or 6 percent in two early-state polls).

Only three candidates have qualified for the sixth debate

Democratic presidential candidates* by number of qualifying polls and whether and how they qualified for the sixth primary debate, as of Oct. 28

NO. OF Qualifying polls
Candidate ≥ 4% EARLY STATE ≥6% 200,000 donors? Qualified
Joe Biden 4 2
Bernie Sanders 4 2
Elizabeth Warren 4 2
Pete Buttigieg 3 1
Kamala Harris 3 1
Tom Steyer 1 0
Amy Klobuchar 0 0
Beto O’Rourke 0 0
Andrew Yang 0 0
Michael Bennet 0 0
Cory Booker 0 0
Steve Bullock 0 0
Julián Castro 0 0
John Delaney 0 0
Tulsi Gabbard 0 0
Joe Sestak 0 0
Marianne Williamson 0 0

*For candidates considered “major” by FiveThirtyEight.

To qualify for the sixth debate, a candidate must reach 4 percent in at least four national or early-state polls or 6 percent in at least two early-state polls from qualifying polling organizations. Candidates must also have at least 200,000 unique donors, including at least 800 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 200,000 donors but did not say whether it had at least 800 donors in 20 states, we assumed that it had met the latter requirement as well.

Sources: POLLS, CAMPAIGNS, MEDIA REPORTS

But with over a month to still qualify, it’s likely at least two more candidates will make the cut. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Kamala Harris each only need one more poll to qualify. After that, however, the likelihood that the other candidates qualify becomes, well, debatable. The only other candidate who has a single qualifying poll is billionaire activist Tom Steyer, who hit 4 percent in Monmouth University’s recent South Carolina poll. He hasn’t yet hit the 200,000 donor mark (he’s at 166,000, according to his campaign), but given his strong polling numbers in early-state polls, thanks in large part to the staggering amount of money he’s dropped on ads, Steyer might still get the four qualifying polls he needs.

Meanwhile, the other six candidates who made the October debate could have an even tougher time, especially with the new polling requirements. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang each have enough donors, but hitting 4 percent support in polls may prove challenging. Yang has only hit 4 percent twice in surveys that count toward the November debate while O’Rourke has only hit 4 percent once. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has also met the donor mark, but she hasn’t exceeded 3 percent in any November debate poll. As for Sen. Cory Booker, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, they’re in real jeopardy of not making the December debate. At this stage, none of them have met the new donor threshold, and none have a single poll for the November debate where they’ve earned above 3 percent.

There’s also little evidence that the remaining “major” candidates based on FiveThirtyEight’s criteria will qualify for the sixth debate. Only author and motivational speaker Marianne Williamson has a real shot at reaching the 200,000-donor threshold — she previously met the 130,000 requirement for the September debate. But her campaign hasn’t reported an updated contributor count for the fifth or sixth debates, and even if she did hit the donor mark, Williamson is unlikely to get enough support in the polls to make the November debate, much less the December one.

Although many candidates will reach the donor threshold for the sixth debate — eight already have and more likely will — it looks like the stricter polling requirement will make it tougher sledding for many of them. So don’t be shocked if fewer than 10 candidates make the December stage.

Footnotes

  1. For this second polling pathway, candidates can count multiple polls from the same pollster in the same geographical location, which isn’t the case for the pathway with the 4 percent threshold.

  2. Information released by campaigns is used to determine whether a candidate has hit the donor threshold. If a campaign announced it had reached 200,000 donors but did not say whether it had at least 800 donors in 20 states, we assumed that it had met the latter requirement as well.

Geoffrey Skelley is an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

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