The Corner

Elections

A 2 Percent Threshold for the Next Debate Is Not Unfair

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard speaks on the second night of the second Democratic presidential debate in Detroit, Mich., July 31, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

To qualify for a spot on the stage for the third Democratic debate in September, candidates must have procured donations from at least 130,000 individual donors and earned 2 percent support in at least four qualifying polls.

Ten have already hit that threshold: Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julián Castro, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Andrew Yang.

Tom Steyer and Tulsi Gabbard are close. The outlook is currently pretty grim for Michael Bennet, Steve Bullock, Bill de Blasio, John Delaney, Kirsten Gillibrand, Tim Ryan, and Marianne Williamson.

Gabbard’s campaign is complaining that the DNC has a limited list of “certified polls,” and she seems to have a point; her campaign counted 26 polls that had her at or above 2 percent, and some surveys, like ones commissioned by the Boston Globe and the Charleston Post and Courier, aren’t on the DNC’s “certified” list.

Among the most recent polls, the Economist/YouGov national poll has her at 2 percent, the CNN national poll has her at 2 percent, the Gravis poll of Nevada Democrats puts her at 2 percent, the Politico/Morning Consult national poll has her at 1 percent and the Fox News national poll has her at 1 percent.

That having been said . . . the threshold is 2 percent, people. If consistently getting 2 percent or more of members of your party to make you their first choice is too difficult . . . well, the presidency doesn’t have many easy days. You can picture some of the asterisk candidates muttering that the DNC rules have reduced the debate qualification process to a popularity contest. Well, yeah. A presidential primary is a competition to see who can get the most people to make a candidate their first choice. If Democrats really feel like Gabbard is getting screwed by an unfairly high threshold, they can inundate the DNC with messages of objection. But as is, when YouGov, or CNN, or Gravis, or Morning Consult or Fox News come calling, not enough Democrats are saying that their first choice is Tulsi Gabbard. The Hawaii congresswoman is a heck of a debater who basically vivisected Kamala Harris’s record as prosecutor in the second debate. But for whatever reason, that hasn’t translated into large numbers of Democrats saying, “yes, she’s my first choice.”

As lamented at the beginning of the month, there are no good formats for ten-candidate debates, only less bad ones. If you want to have a better quality of debate, the DNC has to tell more candidates something they will hate hearing: “You’re just not popular or important enough to participate in our prime-time debates.” Part of this process inevitably means that candidates who are just below the threshold will get left out — and complaining that the process is unfair.

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