- The first two rounds of Democratic primary debates have come and gone, and the Democratic primary field will likely narrow down over the next few months with stricter requirements for the September debate.
- To qualify for the debates in September and October, candidates much reach 2% in four DNC-sanctioned polls and obtain 130,000 donors by August 29.
- When making their own judgments of who should participate in primary debates, Democratic primary voters place much more weight on a candidate’s national and early primary state polling performance than fundraising.
- 51% said performance in national polls should be considered and 49% said performance in early primary state polls should be a factor.
- Just 21% who said a candidate’s donor count should be a factor.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The first two rounds of Democratic primary debates have come and gone, and the Democratic primary field will likely narrow down over the next few months as candidates will likely fail to meet the qualifications for the next debate in September.
INSIDER polled 421 respondents who identified themselves as likely Democratic primary voters, asking them, "which of the following factors do you believe should be considered when selecting which candidates appear on DNC-sanctioned televised primary debates?"
In 2016, the Democratic primary field was relatively small with just five major candidates at first, allowing all of them to easily fit on one debate stage.
But with 2020’s field of 25 candidates — the largest in history —the Democratic National Committee devised debate qualification requirements based on both polling and fundraising.
For the first debates in June and July, the DNC allowed candidates to qualify one of two ways. They could earn 1% in three DNC-approved national, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina polls or obtain 65,000 unique donors from 20 states.
But the DNC has upped the ante for the September and October debates, requiring candidates to both reach 2% in four DNC-sanctioned polls and obtain 130,000 unique donors.
So far, just eight candidates have met both of the requirements, with another two — former HUD Secretary Julián Castro and entrepreneur Andrew Yang — on track to make the cut within the next few weeks.
When making their own judgments of who should participate in primary debates, Democratic primary voters place much more weight on a candidate’s national and early primary state polling performance than fundraising. Indeed, only one-fifth of voters wanted to factor in the donor count when it came to the debate stage placement, which is about half as many that want to factor in early state primary polling.
- 51% said performance in national polls should be considered.
- 39% said performance in early primary state polls should be considered.
- 24% said history running for statewide office should be considered.
- 21% said a candidate’s total donor count should be a factor.
- 21% also said a candidate’s highest political office held should be a factor. (Just three of the candidates, Yang, billionaire activist Tom Steyer, and author Marianne Williamson have never held elected office before.)
Some possible criteria that Democratic primary voters did not widely support for determining who should qualify for debates included a candidate’s number of volunteers (14% support), total amount of money raised (13%), number of social media followers, (9%), and email list size (2.6%).
While the DNC’s polling requirement is meant to capture a candidate’s grassroots support, only requiring candidates to meet 1% for the first two debates meant that some lower-profile candidates qualified — or didn’t — based on a mathematical fluke.
Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, for example, qualified for the first round of debates because of respondents in a CNN/SRSS poll who said they didn’t recognize him naming him as their first choice, while Gov. Steve Bullock missed the first debate by just a few poll respondents, making it on stage for the second debate in July.
While the DNC has endeavored to make the qualification process as fair and transparent as possible, not all candidates were happy with the initial polling requirements or the stricter requirements for September.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand — who has struggled to crack 1% in the polls — was quoted in a Politico magazine profile from May where she characterized the polling threshold as an arbitrary criterion given the fact that many candidates who went onto become party nominees and presidents started out polling less than 1%. She cited former President Bill Clinton as just such an example.
Gillibrand said she felt pressure "because of the DNC’s framework that they’ve put the candidates under," and said of the organization, "I don’t know that they’re serving the public well."
Former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland also complained in July that the 130,000 donor requirement "forces candidates to pour resources into Facebook ads and away from campaigning."
And as INSIDER reported last week, Yang’s campaign sniped at the DNC over their rule that campaigns couldn’t use two polls from the same vendor that cover the same area. The DNC has previously informed the Yang camp that they couldn’t use both an NBC News/Wall Street Journal and an NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll to qualify for the September debate.
SurveyMonkey Audience polls from a national sample balanced by census data of age and gender. Respondents are incentivized to complete surveys through charitable contributions. Generally speaking, digital polling tends to skew toward people with access to the internet. SurveyMonkey Audience doesn’t try to weight its sample based on race or income. Total 1,006 respondents collected July 9 to July 10 with a margin of error plus or minus 3.15 percentage points and a 95% confidence level. See this page for more details about our methodology.
- POWER RANKING: Here’s who has the best chance of becoming the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee
- The 2020 Democratic primary is filled with very good cats and dogs
- Andrew Yang is running for president in 2020. Here’s everything we know about the candidate and how he stacks up against the competition.