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Who Will Make The Fifth Democratic Debate?

Tired: Who will qualify for the fourth Democratic presidential debate in October? Wired: Who will qualify for the fifth Democratic presidential debate, in November?

We still don’t know many of the details about the fifth debate — like when it will be held or who will host it — but on Monday, the Democratic National Committee did announce the criteria that the Democratic presidential candidates must meet in order to participate. As was the case for the third and fourth debates, candidates will be required to hit both a grassroots fundraising threshold and a polling threshold — although each one got a bit harder to attain. Plus, there’s a twist: There are now two possible ways to meet the polling requirement.

The first way to qualify via polls is to receive 3 percent or higher in at least four national or early-state1 polls sponsored by a DNC-approved organization.2 (This is the same rule as for the third and fourth debates, except the minimum requirement used to be 2 percent support.) And just like before, multiple polls conducted by the same organization in the same geography don’t count for this method of qualification.

But the second “polling pathway” is totally new. If candidates get at least 5 percent support in two DNC-approved early-state polls, they also hit the polling requirement. And unlike the other polling threshold, there is no requirement that these polls be conducted by different organizations or in different geographies; for example, two Monmouth University polls of New Hampshire would suffice.

The changes to the fundraising threshold are simpler: Campaigns must now collect campaign contributions from at least 165,000 individual donors. This is an increase from the 130,000 that were required for the third and fourth debates, but not a very drastic one (by contrast, the donor requirement doubled between the second and third debates). Plus, candidates will now need at least 600 individual donors from each of 20 states or territories — again, just a slight jump from the previous requirement of 400 individual donors from each of 20 states.

Whew! So now for the million-dollar question: Who has qualified for November so far? Well … nobody. Only three qualifying polls have been released since Sept. 13, the earliest date a qualifying poll can be released to count toward the November debate.3 We can, though, show you how everyone stands right now in terms of polls and donors:

Many candidates are close to making the fifth debate

Democratic presidential candidates* by number of qualifying polls and whether they’ve met the donor threshold for the fifth primary debate, as of Sept. 23

No. of polls
Candidate ≥3% early state ≥5% 165,000 Donors?
Joe Biden 3 1
Pete Buttigieg 3 1
Kamala Harris 3 1
Bernie Sanders 3 1
Elizabeth Warren 3 1
Cory Booker 2 0
Amy Klobuchar 1 0
Beto O’Rourke 1 0
Andrew Yang 1 0
Julián Castro 0 0
Tulsi Gabbard 0 0
Tom Steyer 0 0
Michael Bennet 0 0
Steve Bullock 0 0
John Delaney 0 0
Tim Ryan 0 0
Joe Sestak 0 0
Marianne Williamson 0 0

*For candidates considered “major” by FiveThirtyEight.

To qualify for the fifth debate, a candidate must reach 3 percent in at least four national or early-state polls or 5 percent in at least two early-state polls from qualifying polling organizations. Candidates must also have at least 165,000 unique donors, including at least 600 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 165,000 donors but did not say whether it had at least 600 donors in 20 states, we assumed that it had met the latter requirement as well.

Sources: Polls, campaigns, media reports

The top five — former Vice President Joe Biden; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; and Sens. Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — are all but guaranteed to make the stage. They have already met the donor threshold and are just one poll away from qualifying. In addition, Sen. Cory Booker is halfway to the four-poll threshold already, but his campaign says he is still stuck between 130,000 and 165,000 donors. Six other candidates have met the donor threshold, but it looks like the polling threshold may be more of a struggle for them.

Obviously, we can’t see into the future to know whether there will be enough polls out there for the likes of former Rep. Beto O’Rourke or Andrew Yang to make the debate. But we can do the next-best thing: Use the polls over the last two months as a stand-in. In other words, if the qualifying period for the fifth debate were, say, July 23 to Sept. 23,4 how much further would the debate stage be winnowed? Here’s a look at who would qualify for the debate under this hypothetical.

The DNC’s new rules could shrink the debate stage

Democratic presidential candidates* by whether and how they would have qualified for the fifth primary debate, if the qualification period were July 23-Sept. 23

No. of polls
Candidate ≥3% early state ≥5% 165,000 Donors?
Joe Biden 14 7
Kamala Harris 14 7
Bernie Sanders 14 7
Elizabeth Warren 14 7
Pete Buttigieg 14 5
Andrew Yang 6 0
Beto O’Rourke 4 0
Amy Klobuchar 3 0
Cory Booker 3 0
Tom Steyer 1 0
Julián Castro 0 0
Tulsi Gabbard 0 0
Michael Bennet 0 0
Steve Bullock 0 0
John Delaney 0 0
Tim Ryan 0 0
Joe Sestak 0 0
Marianne Williamson 0 0

*For candidates considered “major” by FiveThirtyEight.

To qualify for the fifth debate, a candidate must reach 3 percent in at least four national or early-state polls or 5 percent in at least two early-state polls from qualifying polling organizations. Candidates must also have at least 165,000 unique donors, including at least 600 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 165,000 donors but did not say whether it had at least 600 donors in 20 states, we assumed that it had met the latter requirement as well.

Shaded candidates would have qualified for the fifth debate during this time period.

Sources: Polls, campaigns, media reports

Just seven candidates would make the debate — down from a likely 11 or 12 candidates who will grace the stage in the October debate. However, some candidates would have come quite close to qualifying. For instance, Sen. Amy Klobuchar would have been just one poll shy; she has reached 3 percent support in three qualifying polls over the past two months and has reportedly also reached the 165,000-donor mark. Notably, Booker would also fall just short of both the donor and polling requirements (only three pollsters have put him at 3 percent or greater over the past two months).

Outside of those nine, only one candidate has reached 3 percent in even one qualifying poll released since July 23: Tom Steyer, in a Monmouth poll of Iowa from August. So barring any major shake-ups in the race, it seems like the fifth debate will once again cull the number of debaters — perhaps to the single digits.

Footnotes

  1. Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

  2. The DNC also made its list of approved pollsters more specific, probably in an effort to minimize questions about which polls count. For example, the old list of qualifying pollsters included simply “NBC News,” but the new list specifies that they must be “NBC News/Wall Street Journal” or “NBC News/Marist” polls.

  3. We don’t know the exact end date of the qualifying period yet, just that it will be exactly one week before the debate. Similarly, campaigns must meet the grassroots fundraising threshold by 11 a.m. on the sixth day before the debate.

  4. We don’t know the exact length of the fifth-debate qualifying period yet, but we do know it will be around two months — from Sept. 13 to some point in November.

Nathaniel Rakich is FiveThirtyEight’s elections analyst.

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