The Democratic National Committee on Monday announced higher polling and donor thresholds to qualify for the party’s 2020 presidential primary debates – changes that could soon reduce the number of candidates on stage and, in turn, effectively winnow the field.
For the fifth presidential debate, set for November, candidates will have to reach 3% in at least four DNC-approved polls of Democratic voters nationally or in one of the four early-voting states – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. That’s a 1 percentage point increase over the threshold for the September and October debates.
The DNC is also giving candidates a new option: Instead, they can reach at least 5% in two polls of the early-voting states.
The polls must come in a window between September 13 and a week before the November debate. The DNC has not yet announced the date of that debate.
Candidates will also have to raise money from 165,000 separate donors – including a minimum of 600 donors each in at least 20 states or territories. That’s up from the current minimum of 130,000 donors.
The DNC started the 2020 election cycle with a mandate that candidates reach 65,000 donors or achieve at least 1% in polls. After the first two debates, those minimums doubled.
Because of those higher thresholds, the third Democratic debate – held earlier this month in Houston – was the first one conducted in just one night rather than two. The field of candidates who qualified to appear on stage was halved to 10.
With millions of viewers, the debates have proven an important opportunity for Democrats to stand out – and have also served a a cut-off line for voters who are trying to narrow what started as a field with more than 20 candidates.
Some Democratic candidates have already exited the race after failing to qualify for the debate stage – including New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand after she fell short of the threshold to make the September debate, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who dropped out last week after not appearing on the September debate stage earlier this month, and Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, who left the race over the summer after he didn’t qualify for the first two debates.
The October debate, hosted by CNN and The New York Times, is already likely to feature 11 candidates – the 10 who made the September stage, plus billionaire investor and activist Tom Steyer. Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has hit the threshold in three DNC-approved polls, putting her on the cusp of qualifying.