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The Democratic Debates
Frequent Commenter

Presidential candidates for the Democrats have until the end of the day today (Wednesday) to qualify for the upcoming debate in Houston on 9/12. Democratic presidential hopefuls must be polling at 2% or higher in at least four polls and have contributions from at least 130,000 individual donors, including at least 400 in each of 20 states.


So far, ten candidates will make it on the stage in Houston:

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • Bernie Sanders of Vermont
  • Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts
  • Kamala Harris of California
  • Cory Booker of New Jersey
  • Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota
  • South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg
  • Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke of Texas
  • Andrew Yang, entrepreneur
  • Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro

Barring a last-minute miracle, billionaire Tom Steyer, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, self-help author Marianne Williamson, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York won’t be on the stage. They still have a chance to make the stage under the same rules in October (exact date and location not yet announced).


Candidates not making the stage (and even some who struggled a bit to make the stage) have complained about the rules set by the Democratic National Committee, particularly the scarcity of polls by DNC sanctioned polls. For instance, the Gabbard campaign called the DNC’s rules “cockamamie criteria.” However, some are pleased that the polls and donor thresholds are narrowing the field (particularly fellow political scientists who may wish to watch one night of debate...).


Some questions to consider with your class as the Democrats move towards narrowing the field through debates:

  1. What standards might your students brainstorm as ways for candidates to qualify for debates? What's a fair way to let voters see the candidates?
  2. The news media tends to give more attention to candidates they view as more serious or viable, especially when there's a large field of candidates like we have now for the Democrats. Is that a self perpetuating cycle? Do students think that candidates receiving more coverage as a result of doing well in the polls and with donors will then do better thanks to more coverage? How can an "underdog" candidate recover? How should the media determine who to focus on?