One of the problems with this year’s field of Democratic presidential candidates – among the many issues – is the sheer number of them. The party thought they might have had the remedy by placing thresholds on the debates. Only candidates with a certain percentage in polls would be allowed in later debates.
The problem with this format is that the attention often shifts to who’s being left out of the debates. That’s the case with the debate that’s taking place in Iowa next week, where the threshold is 5% in the polls. This time, the focus is on Andrew Yang, Cory Booker, and Tom Steyer, three candidates who will miss out unless they hit a last-minute surge in polls.
It’s an interesting phenomenon, because all three candidates still grab headlines without gaining traction in the polls. Yang’s followers have their own brand of passion for their candidate, while Booker stood near the center at earlier debates, and Steyer has run commercials on every basic cable show he can get his hands on.
Politico reports that these candidates aren’t complaining about the format and thresholds for the debates, but they have issues with the number of polls that determine the threshold.
Those gripes reached a fever pitch over the past week, when a holiday polling drought froze the debate process in place and left some candidates begging for a chance to add to their qualifying poll count. The break ended Sunday, when CBS News released a pair of polls conducted by YouGov in Iowa and New Hampshire.
But those polls offered no help: The only candidates above 5 percent were the five who have already qualified for the debate.
For their part, the DNC believes that they’re including enough polls in their samples.
“The DNC has been more than inclusive throughout this entire process with an expansive list of qualifying polls, including 19 qualifying polls thus far for the January debate, 9 [of] which are state polls,” Adrienne Watson, a DNC spokesperson, said in a statement to POLITICO. “In addition, we have not only expanded the list [of] poll sponsors this cycle to include online polls, but we have expanded the qualifying period for the January debate to account for the holidays.”
The Booker and Yang campaigns have spoken up and asked the DNC to sponsor more polls, but the party has refused to do so.
Are the Democrats being unfair – a damning claim for a segment of the population who always seems disproportionately focused on “fairness”? I don’t believe so. Here’s the way I see the problem: there’s no neat way to moderate debates among candidates that number close to two dozen.
The real difficulty of this situation is that, having so many candidates, it’s hard to truly tell which candidates are serious and which ones are quixotic. Maybe a polling threshold wasn’t the best way to determine who makes a debate, but the party did the best they could.
The bottom line is this: you can’t really blame the party. In many ways it’s on these candidates to decide if they have the staying power. If you’re only pulling 4%, it’s up to you to determine if it’s worth staying in the race. If you’re not in the debate, maybe you have to get your message out some other way – or maybe you’re just not that good a candidate.