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February 4, 2020

Nevada Debate Threshold

Voting in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary is now underway, and the threshold for participation in the debates will continue to be adjusted to reflect the stage of the race and the will of voters.

The DNC has said, since 2017, that the threshold would go up as we get closer to voting because candidates must show progress. The DNC also said repeatedly that the threshold would be reevaluated as voting begins.

To qualify for the Nevada debate, candidates must meet either a delegate requirement or a polling requirement:

To meet the delegate requirement, a candidate must pick up at least one national convention delegate in Iowa or New Hampshire.

There are two pathways to meet the polling requirement. Candidates must either receive 10% support in four national or single-state (South Carolina or Nevada) polls, or 12% in two single-state polls of South Carolina or Nevada.

Now that the grassroots support is actually captured in real voting, the criteria will no longer require a donor threshold.

It’s Delegate Math 101: to win the nomination, a candidate has to win 1991 delegates. To make this debate, you just need one. One delegate is only 0.05% of what a candidate needs to win the nomination.

To be awarded a single delegate, a candidate needs to reach 15% support. To win the nomination, a candidate needs to reach 15% support in nearly every pocket of the country. Therefore, a polling criteria of 10% is more than fair.

If you have not won a delegate or you’re not polling above 10% going into Nevada, you’re not going to win the nomination or even be competitive.

For some historical context: every single nominee from both parties for the past fifty years would have easily cleared the debate threshold.

That includes McGovern, Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Obama, and Clinton.

On the Republican side, that means Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush, Dole, Bush, McCain, Romney, and Trump.

In fact, even competitive candidates who lost the nomination would have no problem clearing this threshold.

2016: Bernie Sanders; Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, John Kasich

2012: Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich

2008: Hillary Clinton and John Edwards; Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, and Mike Huckabee

2004: Al Sharpton, John Edwards, Howard Dean, and Wesley Clark

Many competitive candidates were polling substantially higher than 10% at this point in the race.

At this point in the race in 1984, Jesse Jackson polled as high as 22%

In the same window, Howard Dean polled as high as 30%

In February 2016, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz both polled above 20%

After New Hampshire in 2008, Fred Thompson polled as high as 21%

On voting replacing the small dollar donor requirement:

The donor threshold was appropriate for the opening stages of the race, when candidates were building their organizations and there were no metrics available outside of polling to distinguish those making progress from those who weren’t.

The donor threshold energized millions of grassroots donors earlier than ever before in the process and gave them a voice in the process that they’d never had before.

Small-dollar donors are going to be the driving force of the presidential general election, and the donor threshold was key in setting that frame and setting Democrats up for success.

Collectively, primary campaigns were able to keep fundraising pace with the Trump and RNC because of their small-dollar donor bases.

Now that the primaries are here, energized supporters are motivated to go to the polls, support their candidate, talk to their friends and family, and be the backbone of the rest of the presidential election.

On the Threshold, Generally:

The DNC and its media partners are required by law to implement objective criteria to determine who qualifies for participation in the debate. The DNC can not and does not pick and choose who gets on the stage.

The DNC has said, since 2017, that the threshold would go up as we get closer to voting because candidates must show progress. It’s been this way in previous cycles for both parties.

The DNC has also said repeatedly that the threshold would be reevaluated once votes were cast and the primary was underway.

The threshold continues to be generous and fair. By mid-February, candidates must be able to demonstrate this relatively basic level of broad-based support.

The DNC has had the most inclusive process in history.

The first two debates consisted of 20 people with two consecutive nights of prime time; and we've had low polling thresholds of 1%, 2%, 3%, 4% and 5%.

The polling threshold has included more state polls than ever before, online polls, and there have been multiple polling pathways.

More candidates have made the debate stage than ever before, more women than ever before and more people of color than ever before.

The DNC has required every network to have a woman and person of color moderator for each debate. This didn’t happen on its own.

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