Presidential Debate News

The Democratic National Committee, which oversees the debates among Democratic Candidates prior to the DNC Convention in July 2020, announced qualification requirements for the presidential debates that include metrics related to grass-roots support. There will be 12 debates held over the course of the 2020 election cycle. The first debate will be in June 2019 followed by a second debate in July.

If there are too many candidates to fit on the stage in one night — which seems likely at this point — the candidates will debate on two consecutive nights with the line-up chosen by random drawing. A maximum of 20 candidates will be accomodated over the two nights of prime time debate. The qualification criteria for candidates’ participation in the first two debates is a two-path system that employs both a polling threshold and a grassroots fundraising threshold. Candidates may qualify using either threshold; however, if more than 20 candidates qualify using the two thresholds separately, the two measures will be used in combination to reduce the field.


Democratic candidates may qualify for the first and second debate by meeting one of the two following sets of criteria:

Polling Method: Register 1% or more support in three polls (which may be national polls, or polls in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and/or Nevada) publicly released between January 1, 2019, and 14 days prior to the date of the Organization Debate. Qualifying polls will be limited to those sponsored by one or more of the following organizations or institutions: Associated Press, ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Des Moines Register, Fox News, Las Vegas Review Journal, Monmouth University, NBC News, New York Times, National Public Radio (NPR), Quinnipiac University, Reuters, University of New Hampshire, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Winthrop University. Any candidate’s three qualifying polls must be conducted by different organizations, or if by the same organization, must be in different geographical areas.

Grassroots Fundraising Method. Candidates may qualify for the debate by demonstrating that the campaign has received donations from at least (1) 65,000 unique donors; and (2) a minimum of 200 unique donors per state in at least 20 U.S. states. To demonstrate that the fundraising threshold has been reached, candidates must provide verifiable evidence, which they may do by authorizing ActBlue and/or NGP VAN to provide that evidence.

If more than 20 candidates qualify for the debate, the top 20 candidates will be selected using a methodology that gives primacy to candidates meeting both thresholds, followed by the highest polling average, followed by the most unique donors.

Details on Media Coverage

Michael Scherer reports in the Washington Post: “The expansive new qualification requirements are designed to allow a historically large group of candidates to make the stage at events that are likely to be split over two consecutive nights to accommodate the crowded field. …. The only way to qualify for early Democratic debates in 2015 was to register at least 1 percent in three national polls. … The first set of debates will be broadcast in June by NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo, followed by CNN-sponsored debates in July.”

The media agreements are unprecedented. No debate has ever aired in prime time on back-to-back nights before. Location, venue, moderators, date and time, format and logistics of the first and second debates will be announced at a later date.

Sources: DNC Press release and Washington Post

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