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The First Democratic Debate Deadline Has Passed: Who’s In And Who’s Out

UPDATE (June 13, 2019, 5:50 p.m.): On Thursday, the DNC confirmed that 20 candidates have qualified for the first set of debates, later this month:


It’s almost debate time! On June 26 and 27, 20 candidates will gather in Miami to take part in the first Democratic presidential primary debates of the 2020 election cycle. And today, June 12, marks the deadline for polls that can affect who makes it on stage. Since our update last week, three more qualifying polls have come out, though none of them have changed who makes the debate stage. Of course, it’s still possible another poll might drop today — the Democratic National Committee has said they will include all qualifying polls released by midnight tonight.

The DNC won’t release the final list of candidates who have qualified until tomorrow afternoon as candidates have until 11 a.m. Thursday to submit updated fundraising numbers, but here’s where things currently stand (be sure to check back in as we’ll be tracking if anything changes): Exactly 20 candidates — the maximum number the DNC says can participate — have met either the polling or donor requirements,1 with 14 hitting both (Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced on Monday that she hit the donor threshold). And with just 20 candidates making the cutoff, it looks as if the DNC won’t need to use its various tie-breaking procedures to winnow the field.

Which candidates are in line to make the primary debates?

Democratic presidential candidates by whether and how they have qualified for the first two primary debates, as of June 12, 2019

Qualifies for debates via …
Candidate polls donors both
Joe Biden
Cory Booker
Pete Buttigieg
Julián Castro
Tulsi Gabbard
Kirsten Gillibrand
Kamala Harris
Jay Inslee
Amy Klobuchar
Beto O’Rourke
Bernie Sanders
Elizabeth Warren
Marianne Williamson
Andrew Yang
Michael Bennet
Bill de Blasio
John Delaney
John Hickenlooper
Tim Ryan
Eric Swalwell
Steve Bullock
Mike Gravel
Seth Moulton

For candidates deemed “major” by FiveThirtyEight.

To qualify via polling, a candidate must reach 1 percent in at least three national or early-state polls from qualifying polling organizations. To qualify via donors, a candidate must have at least 65,000 unique donors with at least 200 donors in at least 20 states. Information released by campaigns is used to determine whether a candidate has hit the donor threshold. If a campaign reached 65,000 donors but did not say whether it had at least 200 donors in 20 states, we assumed that it had met the latter requirement as well. Candidates will have to prove to the DNC that they have met the donor requirements.

Sources: Polls, Media reports

As for who won’t make the debate stage, three candidates who FiveThirtyEight considers “major” fell short of both the polling and donor requirements. This was a particularly tough break for Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who, at this stage, is still one poll shy of qualification. Bullock’s circumstances for not making the debate stage were also somewhat unexpected: Just last week, the DNC told Politico that it would not count two open-ended surveys conducted by ABC News/Washington Post. This meant that one of the polls which FiveThirtyEight had included as Bullock’s third qualifying poll no longer counted.2 The two other major candidates who didn’t make the stage — Rep. Seth Moulton and former Sen. Mike Gravel — didn’t reach 1 percent in a single qualifying poll.

But it’s not like these candidates didn’t have plenty of opportunities to qualify. In total, we count 23 qualifying polls for the first set of debates, conducted by seven different pollsters since the start of the year. And every major candidate was asked about in at least 14 surveys, save former Sen. Mike Gravel, who was included just six times.

Of those polls, 16 were national surveys, six were split evenly between the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire, and then Monmouth’s latest poll rounded out the list with the first qualifying poll from Nevada. But there were no surveys from South Carolina, even though the DNC identified a qualifying polling organization there (Winthrop University).

That mix of polls matters because the DNC is using them not only to decide who makes the debates, but also in how to group the candidates between the two nights. The draw, which the DNC plans to do this Friday, will not be completely random. Participants will be selected from two pots of candidates — one with participants who averaged at least 2 percent among all qualifying polls and one with the remaining candidates. The debate fields will then be set by random draws from the two pots to fill up 10 spots for both nights. And based on our average of the qualifying polls, eight candidates are polling at 2 percent or more: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar. By using this approach, the DNC will avoid having all of the leading candidates appear on stage the same night, though there’s still a chance that the very top candidates — such as the two poll leaders, Biden and Sanders — will appear in the same debate.

While the candidates for the first debate appear set, the debate qualification game is far from over. The same polling and donor criteria will be in place to determine who qualifies for the second round of Democratic debates in Detroit on July 30-31, and then higher standards will come into play for September’s third debate, hosted by ABC News and Univision. So we can expect plenty more debate about the debates moving forward.

CORRECTION (June 12, 2019, 7:22 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly described the DNC’s process for dividing the candidates between the two debate nights. The top-tier bucket will include candidates who averaged at least 2 percent among all qualifying polls, not just each candidate’s strongest three polls. The list of candidates who would currently fall into that top tier has been updated accordingly.

Footnotes

  1. To qualify, a candidate must earn either 1 percent support in at least three qualifying polls (conducted by different pollsters or in different geographies) or 65,000 unique donors (including at least 200 individual donors in at least 20 states). We rely on self-reported figures from the campaigns for the fundraising numbers, and we’ve assumed that candidates who’ve reported having at least 65,000 donors also have at least 200 donors from each of 20 states, though it’s possible that some of them haven’t hit that mark yet.

  2. Previously, the DNC had not responded to multiple inquiries from FiveThirtyEight about how they would handle these open-ended polls. So like other news organizations, we had treated them as qualifying polls based on the fact that the DNC’s initial debate rules said that polls from ABC News and the Washington Post would count.

Geoffrey Skelley is an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

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