Tarbell will be testing out some new story formats and features ahead of the new year! One of our first is “Ask Tarbell”, a Q&A on policy, spin and general queries surrounding US government. If you have a question, or feedback on this piece, write to us at hello@tarbell.org.

This week, Tarbell received a question about candidate qualifications for the Democratic National Debate in December, so I wanted to offer some answers:

The Democratic National Committee, which organizes and hosts debates and the upcoming Convention in July, raised the bar that hopefuls must vault in order to speak in the sixth Democratic Debate on Dec. 19.

Each candidate must:


  • receive 4% or more votes in at least four polls. These must be conducted by qualifying pollsters with representative populations, and they should either be national polls or single-state polls from one of the four early-voting states – Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and/or Nevada.
  • receive 6% or more votes in at least two single-state polls.  These must be conducted by qualifying pollsters with representative populations, conducted for one of the four early-voting states – Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and/or Nevada.
  • earn donations from 200,000 unique donors nationally, which must include at least 800 unique donors per state in 20 or more states.

This is a pretty significant increase from the requirements of the fifth debate, which will take place Nov. 20 in Georgia. Candidates must:

  • receive 3% or more in at least 4 polls (national or the early states)
  • receive 5% or more in at least 2 polls (early states)
  • 165,000 unique donors nationally, with at least 600 donors per state in 20+ states.

So far, only three candidates qualify for the December debate: former vice president Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

The remaining candidates have until midnight on Dec. 13 to complete these requirements. Political number-cruncher FiveThirtyEight predicts that Sen. Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg have a high chance of joining the stage in December, as they each only need one more qualifying poll. But other candidates will have a higher wall to climb.

So at this point it looks like the December Debate will be even less crowded than the November debate, for which nine candidates already qualify:  Biden, Sen. Cory Booker, Buttigieg, Harris, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sanders, businessman Tom Steyer, Warren and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

If you live in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada, you can probably expect a lot of political ads flooding your TV and radio stations.

If your favorite candidate has not yet qualified for the December debate and you want to see them speak, you can participate in national polls (or state polls, if you live in one of those four states), or consider donating if you have yet to do so.

The DNC has received criticism for putting their preferred candidates above others, but there is certainly a desire to narrow the playing field in this larger-than-ever primary competition. While this is unfolding, the organization has finally resolved complaints that they favored 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton over Sanders’ grassroots campaign, after the 11th Circuit Court tossed an appeal of the DNC’s victory this week.

As DNC Chair Tom Perez told The Atlantic after the 4th debate: “If you have an impulse that you have to be liked by everyone, don’t take this job. Because my job is not to be liked by everyone.”

If you have any other questions about politics and policy that might benefit your peers too, reach out to us for an answer! Message us on Facebook or send an email to hello@tarbell.org