Fans of Tulsi Gabbard and Tom Steyer have been very upset that their candidates did not make the stage for the third debate. Gabbard, in particular, went on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson program to complain.

So the question is, were these two candidates cheated? Or did they just fail to make the grade?

On Fox, Gabbard argued that the DNC was unfair.

After failing to meet the requirements for the next round of debates, 2020 Democratic hopeful Tulsi Gabbard appeared on Fox News to criticize the party’s national committee for a “lack of transparency.”. . .

Fox News host Tucker Carlson started the segment by asking Gabbard if the Democratic National Committee was really “refusing to recognize as valid polls that would qualify you for the next debate.”

The congresswoman said the entire polling process gets a “little bit confusing” but that the real problem was that the “whole process really lacks transparency.”. . .

DNC spokesperson Adrienne Watson responded to Gabbard’s comments, telling Newsweek: “The debate rules have been public for months, and candidates have been given more opportunities and more time to qualify for debates than in previous cycles.”

So—did we know the criteria going in? Let’s look at the polls the Democratic National Committee used to determine whether candidates qualified. The criteria were given to all the candidates, well in advance. Most public articles don’t list the criteria because, frankly, most of the public doesn’t care.

ABC News did give the lineup that had been announced last spring.

In May, the DNC announced new, more stringent qualifying rules that apply to the debate hosted by ABC News and Univision, and for the debate to follow, slated to take place in October. . .

Candidates must receive 2% or more support in at least four national polls, or polls conducted in the early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and/or Nevada. Each poll submitted must be publicly released between June 28 and Aug. 28 and be must be sponsored by one or more of the following organizations approved by the DNC: The Associated Press, ABC News, CBS News, CNN, the Des Moines Register, Fox News, Monmouth University, NBC News, The New York Times, National Public Radio, Quinnipiac University, University of New Hampshire, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Washington Post, and Winthrop University.

There it is. In black-and-white. Announced in May. How is that not transparent?

Meanwhile, Steyer did qualify for October.

Steyer crossed the threshold after receiving 2 percent in a CBS News/YouGov poll conducted in Nevada and released Sunday. To qualify for the debate, candidates need to get at least 2 percent in four polls approved by the Democratic National Committee and donations from 130,000 unique donors. Steyer had already gotten 2 percent in three polls and has already hit the donor mark. . .

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is the next most likely candidate to qualify for the October debate, needing 2 additional qualifying polls. Gabbard did not break 2 percent in any of the new CBS/YouGov polls. . .

Author Marianne Williamson has previously crossed the donor threshold and has received 2 percent in one DNC-approved poll for the September and October debates, the only other candidate in the race to do so. However, she did not hit 2 percent in any of the four CBS polls released Sunday, nor in the ABC News/Washington Post national poll.

After complaints by Gabbard, FiveThirtyEight considered—“What If The Third Debate Were Based On Different Polls?”

The deadline to make the third Democratic primary debate has passed, and thanks to harder qualifying rules, just 10 candidates made the stage. This, of course, was unwelcome news among candidates such as billionaire activist Tom Steyer and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who were on the cusp of making the debate. Steyer needed just one more qualifying poll, and Gabbard needed two.

And this got us thinking: What would the debate stage look like if the list or type of eligible polls were different? . . .

So to better understand how including different pollsters or relying on different pollster methodologies could affect who made the debate stage, we checked to see who would have qualified if:

1. all polls had been counted;
2. just polls from pollsters with a grade of at least B- or better, according to FiveThirtyEight’s Pollster Ratings (as this grade captures a mix of high-quality phone polls and respected online polls); and
3. only live phone interviews polls, which are often considered the gold standard in polling.

FiveThirtyEight found that if ALL possible polls had been used, then yes, Gabbard and Steyer would have qualified—but FiveThirtyEight agreed that they did not qualify, under the DNC rules. FiveThirtyEight then included ALL polls with at least a B-rating, and found that the two candidates would have qualified, in that case.

FiveThirtyEight also looked at who would qualify if only live phone polls were used. In that case, Gabbard and Steyer would not qualify—and neither would Julian Castro.

The bottom line is that there have to be rules, and no matter how you run the analysis, the same candidates would have qualified in almost every case.

So big picture, you could say the exact DNC rules don’t make a huge difference — most of the same set of candidates makes it on stage regardless. Of course, for the individual candidates on the edge of qualification, that give or take is everything. Suffice it to say, the rules matter quite a bit to them. And in this case, there’s an argument to be made that the DNC’s list of eligible pollsters helped make or break qualification for those candidates on the bubble — Gabbard and Steyer in particular.

FiveThirtyEight seems to justify the DNC rules. And the point is, if any candidate thought the rules were unfair, that should have been said when the criteria were announced—not after the candidate failed to make the grade.


  1. Your closing statement on this article is pathetic. Did you know that the candidates did complain when the rules were announced? So have the American people… We’ve been complaining for months. Actually we’ve been complaining since the DNC screwed over the people in 2016!!! This is ridiculous.

    Only old people have land lines… See rule number 3.

    Oh, and the comment about how these rules are transparent that you posted in the article… No they aren’t. Dig deeper. This article is completely superficial. No the polls are not transparent. The rules appear to be put the polls are not. The polls are what are in question here. The polls are the corrupt forces here. Who is funding the approved polls??? The American people deserve to know. They should be public information.

    Release who funds these private official polls!!! We’re waiting and if we have to wait too long will dig it up ourselves. Where is WikiLeaks when you need it??

    • You apparently don’t read very carefully. “Rule number 3” was not a DNC rule. It was FiveThirtyEight’s attempt to find a way for your darling to qualify.

  2. Pathetic rule number 3:
    “3. only live phone interviews polls, which are often considered the gold standard in polling.”

  3. I’ve had this gnawing suspicion for some time that early polls–which come in waves and floods as soon as someone donates to a candidate–are being used to eliminate citizens from being polled again, DEPENDING ON THEIR ANSWERS. If our answer deviates from DNC’s own agenda (i.e., Biden), then, suddenly, the polls stop coming and the phone stops ringing. And yes, polling by phone is a RIDICULOUSLY ANTIQUATED idea–so ridiculous, in fact, that it must be intentional, as to exclude a lot of opinions. Does the DNC truly believe we are so stupid as to not know they squash grassroots and a truly democratic process, and also that they want Biden to be the nominee??? “Dictating” a democratic process is a CONTRADICTION IN TERMS. Ptui! If there is a repeat of 2016, I will not vote and America deserves every bit of what it will get–again.

  4. Good and descriptive article about the DNC’s process. To me looking at this process from a completely indifferent position it seems that the DNC is putting up arbitrary roadblocks put in a legalize sort of way.?

    Are the Democrats too proud to follow a format similar to what the Republicans did in 2016 when they had many candidates? The Republicans had a big boys debate and the following night a kids debate. You of course know that I mean the highest pollers were at the big boys debate and those with little following at the kids debate. Ultimately the candidates with little following dropped their pursuit of the Republican nomination for president. The Republican electorate however got a chance to listen and evaluate every candidate.?

    The DNC however sets up guidelines to dissuade all but certain candidates from fully participating in the nomination process. They sure as hell threw every conceivable roadblock against any candidate not named Clinton in 2016. The DNC apparently doesn’t think that those who lean liberal in the American populace are very bright so they are going to act the part of a dotting mother and tell them what’s best.?

    • The Dem candidates think they know what is best for everyone. So, the DNC follows suit and says Actually “We” know what is Best.

    • I am always amazed at the hysteria of zealots. I haven’t been excited about a candidate since I was ten.

      I read the article. The “transparency” charge is ludicrous. It admits that the rules are clear and unchanging and announced in advance. The only complaint about “transparency” is that they didn’t tell her HOW they made the decisions.

      Seems to me, if her complaint had merit, she would not be the only one making a fuss–and she wouldn’t be asking her buddies at Fox to undermine the DNC.

  5. Why are we told every day by the media who’s ahead in the polls? How do they know each day? Who’s polls are they referring to every day on the news? What about the other 7 polls that the DNC referred to as not being released yet? Seems like they make it up everyday.

    How did they come up with the idea that Biden was leading the 1st day he announced he was running? From what I’ve been told you can’t complete a poll that fast.

    I call shenanigans!!!!

  6. Big point here: the polls are NOT transparent at all! Who funds them? How can we know any of it is real if we cannot see what’s going on.

    1. DNC made the rules & they know the polls are sketchy & not officially safe at all. That’s why they want it that way. So we can’t tell what’s going on. Easy to manipulate!

    2. The issue of unregulated polling…we are supposed to trust the people running the polls. Who’s side are they on anyway??

    Follow the money! ?

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