Today is the last day Democratic presidential candidates can qualify for the Oct. 15 debate, but it doesn’t look like there will be much last-minute drama — though the stage might get cramped with 12 candidates, which is the most participants ever in a single presidential primary debate. (The Democratic National Committee announced on Friday that the debate would take place on just one night, even though more than 10 candidates qualified.)
Last Tuesday, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard became the 12th candidate to make the stage when she got her fourth qualifying poll, but chances are she’ll be the last candidate to make the cut, as the next person in line — author and motivational speaker Marianne Williamson — still needs three more qualifying polls.
Who has — and hasn’t — qualified for the October debate
Democratic presidential candidates* by whether and how they have qualified for the fourth primary debate, as of Oct. 1
|MET THRESHOLD FOR …|
|Candidate||No. of polls||Polls||Donors||Qualified|
As a reminder, candidates needed to attract 2 percent support in four qualifying national or early-state polls released between June 28 and Oct. 1, plus collect contributions from 130,000 unique donors (including at least 400 individual donors in at least 20 states).1
Of course, the qualifying criteria for the fifth Democratic debate in November are even stricter. Candidates will need four surveys of 3 percent or more in national or early-state polls and contributions from 165,000 unique donors (including at least 600 individual donors in at least 20 states). There is also an alternate path to meet the polling requirement — candidates who attract 5 percent support in two polls in the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina also qualify. And anyone who wants to qualify via the early-state route can count two polls from the same polling organization in the same state. For example, candidates who earned 5 percent support in two CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa surveys could count both polls toward the early-state poll path. Candidates qualifying through the four-poll path could count only one of those Iowa polls — each of their four polls must come from a different pollster or cover a different geography.
And at this stage, it’s unclear whether this early-state polling pathway will help any candidates qualify; the only candidates who’ve earned 5 percent in at least two early-state polls already got at least 3 percent support in four qualifying polls, so they would get in that way as well. In fact, one thing the fifth debate requirements make obvious is that the candidate field is consolidating into three main groups: (1) the five polling front-runners who have easily qualified; (2) a middle tier of seven candidates, most of whom will probably make the debate but who are struggling to hit more than 2 or 3 percent in the polls; and (3) a bottom tier of candidates who have virtually no chance of qualifying.
Five candidates have qualified for the November debate
Democratic presidential candidates* by whether and how they have qualified for the fifth primary debate, as of Oct. 1
|NO. OF Qualifying polls||MET THRESHOLD FOR …|
|Candidate||≥ 3%||Early state ≥5%||Polls||Donors||Qualified|
As you can see, qualifying won’t be easy for that middle tier — but some of those candidates are close, like tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang and billionaire activist Tom Steyer, who each need only one more poll, and Sen. Cory Booker, who needs just two more. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke still need three more qualifying surveys, but they’ve probably got a month or more to rack up those polls2 so while their path to the stage looks difficult, it’s not impossible.
What’s more, even though neither Gabbard nor former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro have a qualifying poll yet, they’ve already cleared the donor threshold, which means they’re still in a better position than the six candidates FiveThirtyEight considers “major” who haven’t met the donor requirement or registered a single qualifying poll. Given the long odds that these candidates face, we might expect some more dropouts soon — for instance, Castro recently told supporters in a fundraising email that his campaign would close up shop if he failed to make the November debate. It’s easy to imagine he wouldn’t be the only one.