Democrats aren’t letting just anyone onto their presidential debate stage anymore.
After two debates with lenient qualification standards that featured 20 candidates each, the DNC raised the bar for September’s third debate. The move has created some drama, as various lower-polling contenders are struggling to make the cut with less than three weeks before the final lineup is announced.
We’ll go into the fine print more below, but the gist is that candidates have to hit 2 percent in four recent polls from a specific list of organizations, and also get donations from 130,000 different people. By contrast, to get into the first debate, you had to hit 1 percent in three polls or get donations from 65,000 people — each threshold was lower, and you didn’t need to meet both of them.
Three more candidates — Julián Castro, Tom Steyer, and Tulsi Gabbard — have made some significant progress toward qualifying, though it’s not clear if they’ll make it. The rest of the field seems quite far away and the clock is ticking: The deadline to qualify is Wednesday, August 28.
However, candidates who narrowly fail to qualify for September’s third debate might get another chance in October. The DNC is using the same qualification rules for both events, but candidates will have an extra month or so to get more donations or show improvement in polls, as Politico’s Zach Montellaro reported.
The third debate is scheduled for September 12 and potentially also September 13, if enough candidates qualify to necessitate a two-night event. It’s co-sponsored by and will be aired on ABC and Univision.
How to qualify for the third Democratic debate
To make it onto the debate stage, a Democratic candidate has to meet both of these two thresholds.
1. The polling threshold: A candidate must hit 2 percent or more in at least four polls released between June 28 and August 28.
- These can be either national polls or early state polls (of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, or South Carolina).
- These polls must be conducted by one of these organizations: CNN, Fox News, CBS, ABC, NBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Associated Press, NPR, the Des Moines Register, Monmouth University, Quinnipiac University, the University of New Hampshire, or Winthrop University.
- One catch is that a candidate cannot use multiple polls by the same organization covering the same geographic area. (For example, if there are two NBC national polls showing a candidate meeting the threshold, only one of them will count).
2. The donor threshold: A candidate must have received donations from 130,000 different people. Also, they must have at least 400 donors each in at least 20 different states.
The names of donors who give less than $200 don’t have to be publicly disclosed, so for the time being we’ve had to rely on the candidates’ own claims that they’ve met this donor threshold. (Eventually, they have to give corroborating information to the DNC, which will double-check.)
Who’s qualified for the third Democratic debate?
So far, these candidates have met the polling threshold and have said they’ve met the donor threshold:
- Joe Biden
- Bernie Sanders
- Elizabeth Warren
- Kamala Harris
- Pete Buttigieg
- Beto O’Rourke
- Cory Booker
- Amy Klobuchar
- Andrew Yang
Currently, this list is small enough that it could mean all the candidates get to debate together on one night, rather than being split over two separate nights as was the case in both previous debates this year.
But the DNC has said that if a “large field” does end up qualifying, this third debate will again be a two-night event. They have not, however, said exactly how many qualifying candidates would necessitate a two-night debate.
So if, say, 11 or 12 candidates qualify — which seems totally plausible at the moment — it’s not yet clear whether they’d all be onstage together or whether they’d be split in two groups on separate nights.
Who hasn’t yet qualified for the third Democratic debate?
There are three candidates who have made significant progress toward qualifying but who haven’t yet sealed the deal.
- Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro has three of four qualifying polls and says he has met the donor threshold. So he needs just one more poll to qualify.
- Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) says she has met the donor threshold but she has just one of four qualifying polls. So she needs three more polls to qualify.
- Billionaire Tom Steyer has three of four qualifying polls but he has not yet met the donor threshold. So he needs one more poll and a bunch more donors to quality.
Everybody else in the race faces an uphill climb to qualify, with most having zero of the necessary four polls so far and not having met the donor threshold, either. They are:
- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York (has one poll)
- Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado (has one poll)
- Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington
- Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana
- Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado
- Author Marianne Williamson
- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio
- Former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland
- Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio
- Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts
- Mayor Wayne Messam of Miramar, Florida
- Former Rep. Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania
But candidates will get another chance at qualifying for the fourth debate
There’s an interesting twist about qualifying for the fourth Democratic debate in October, though: It will actually be easier.
That’s because the qualification rules are exactly the same as for the third debate — except that there will be more time for campaigns to make it happen.
For the polling threshold in particular, the third debate requires polls released between June 28 and August 28 be used. But for the fourth debate, that window goes from that same starting point (June 28) up until two weeks before the October debate (which doesn’t yet have a specific announced date).
The gist, as Politico points out, is that any candidates who qualify for the third debate automatically make it into the fourth debate — and on top of that roster, the rest of the field will have another month to try and get the rest of what they need as well.
So what could oddly ensue is a significantly smaller field for September’s third debate that then gets a bit bigger for October’s fourth debate.