The first GOP debate is Thursday: Here’s what you need to know

Updated 3:24 PM EDT, Tue August 4, 2015
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Washington CNN —  

Republican primary voters will get more insight this week into the presidential candidates vying for their party’s nomination as the contenders prepare to square off in the first primary debate.

And with the rise of Donald Trump and the drama his surge has provoked, the first debate is arguably the most anticipated 2016 election event to date.

CNN Interactive: 2016 election candidates

So when’s the debate and who’s going to be on stage with Trump?

The first GOP primary debate will take place Thursday at 9 p.m. EST on Fox News, is co-hosted by Facebook and will feature the top 10 leading candidates for the GOP nomination.

But political analysts will first watch for a different date and time — Tuesday at 5 p.m.

That’s the cutoff by which national polls must be released to help decide which 10 candidates take the stage on Thursday.

Fox News’ debate criteria, which have spurred some pushback from candidates, rely on the five most recent well-respected national polls of Fox News’ choosing to select the top 10 candidates, as well as weed out the bottom seven candidates, who will lose out on the prime-time airwaves.

2016 Presidential Debates Fast Facts

As for the debate itself, it’s scheduled to go for two hours. There will be three Fox News hosts asking questions of the candidates.

RELATED: Republican candidates sound off on Fox debate: Prime time or warmup act?

Who’s most likely to make the cut?

Recent polls have given a clearer indication of which candidates will most likely be included in the debate, but more polls before the Tuesday cutoff could shift the stage.

Some candidates have their spots all but assured, particularly for the candidates who have consistently placed in the top three in recent polls: Trump, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, all of whom have pulled double-digit support in the latest polls.

And consistently in fourth through eighth place have been neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

RELATED: Polls: Who will face off in the first GOP debate?

As of now, the two remaining spots will likely go to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has surged off his late-July announcement, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry is close behind, but would not make it into the debate based on CNN’s average of the latest five nationwide poll, which puts him at 2% of support.

CNN’s poll of polls, based on the five most recent nationwide polls, ranks the top 10 candidates in the following order: Trump (23%), Bush (13%), Walker (11%), Carson (7%), Huckabee (7%), Cruz (6%), Paul (5%), Rubio (5%), Christie (3%) and Kasich (3%).

At the bottom of the pack, registering less than 2 percent of support in recent polls, are Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, former business executive Carly Fiorina and former New York Gov. George Pataki, all of whom have little chance of squeaking into the debate. Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, who only last week joined the crop of contenders, has failed to register 1% of support in the recent polls in which he was included.

Trump’s position is likely to be in the center of the stage since he’s been polling ahead of the pack.

Will the bottom-tier candidates get some national airtime?

Fox News will host a 5 p.m. debate for the bottom seven candidates, giving them a chance to debate the big issues despite failing to crack into the top ranks of national polling. That debate, given its airtime and the crop of lesser-known candidates, is expected to tout significantly lower viewership.

But voters will get to see nearly all candidates on one stage this week before the Thursday debates.

Fourteen of the 17 contenders will flock to New Hampshire on Monday night for a presidential forum, hosted by the New Hampshire Union Leader and televised by C-SPAN, where voters will get a taste of the candidates’ posture for the big night on Thursday.

Trump, assessing he will not get the New Hampshire newspaper’s endorsement after an editorial critical of his comments about Sen. John McCain’s status as a war hero, told the Union Leader last week he would not participate in the forum.

Huckabee also will not attend, and Gilmore did not announce his candidacy early enough to be included in the presidential forum.