The lineups for the first Democratic debates — on Wednesday, June 26, and Thursday, June 27 — are out! Only 20 candidates qualified, obviating the need for any complicated tiebreakers. And on Friday, the Democratic National Committee held a two-part random drawing to determine who would debate on each night. The eight candidates with polling averages of at least 2 percent were drawn first (four debating on one night, four on the other), and then the 12 remaining candidates were drawn (six on one night, six on the other). Here are the resulting lineups for each night, as well as each candidate’s average in qualifying polls:
|June 26 debate||No. of Polls||Avg||June 27 debate||No. of Polls||Avg|
|Total support||21.4||Total support||64.0|
|Average support||2.1||Average support||6.4|
By separating the candidates into higher- and lower-polling groups, the DNC hoped to avoid a scenario where the lottery put all the top-tier candidates on the same night — effectively relegating the other debate to “junior varsity” status. (In 2016, some Republican debates grouped candidates into higher and lower tiers and put them on separate stages, a setup sometimes referred to as the “varsity” and “junior varsity” debates, which caused a lot of issues and complaints.) However, as you can see from the table, that kind of happened anyway. Four of the five highest-polling candidates (former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Kamala Harris and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg) will all debate on the same night (Thursday). Meanwhile, the four higher-polling candidates on Wednesday’s slate include Sens. Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar, who are polling either right at or just barely above the 2 percent dividing line. In total, 21 percent worth of polling support is appearing on the first night of the debates and 64 percent is on the second night.
What implications will these lopsided lineups have for the debates and the candidates in them? We don’t really know right now, but it may mean the Thursday debate, with more heavy hitters, will get higher ratings. On the other hand, being in the Wednesday debate might be advantageous for a less-popular candidate because they will now have more of a chance to step out of the front-runners’ shadows. We’ll be closely following the debates on our live blog; be sure to join us then.
Derek Shan contributed research.