John Nichols, The Nation - Culling the Candidates is Killing Us. Or Not.

John Nichols, The Nation
Culling the Candidates is Killing Us. Or Not.


So much depends upon three poll results to be published later on this day when we recorded with John Nichols.  Those polls are the last hope of Tom Steyer and Tulsi Gabbard to make it into the third round of debates among candidates for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 2020.  By the rules of the Democratic Party, a candidate must record at least 130,000 individual campaign fund donors and be the choice of at least two percent of the voters in four of a long list of approved polls.  Steyer needs the get to two percent in one of today’s three polls, Gabbard needs to hit the mark twice.  They’ve got the donors, so the polls could get ‘em in.

Failing to get in does not rule out a chance to meet the same criteria and be included in DemoDebate4 in October.  Steyer, a billionaire who is largely self-financed says he’s going keep campaigning no matter what.

The prize for racking up enough donors and poll points is getting to join Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julián Castro, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang.

If this list feels to you like a still-overstuffed closet, remember round two had two separate 10-candidate debate nights. This list is 10 names long, a perfect excuse for ABC to pull back Friday night and make round three just one debate long.

But what if Steyer gets in?  That’s 11, and there’s a developing consensus among the TV people and the top-tier candidates’ people that one more couldn’t hurt.  12?  As in Gabbard also makes the grade?  Solomonic wisdom suggests cutting the bay in two, making for two nights of six debaters each.  Solomon isn’t losing time that could revert to commercial programming if there were no second debate.  And King Solomon isn’t up for election facing the dreaded possibility for being stuck with a bunch of loser candidates on rating-challenged Friday night.

For the single-digit candidates recording between two and eight percent support, a second debate, less crowded with contenders, might allow for a breakthrough moment.  For viewers, two debates would mean a less frenetic pace, the possibility of longer answers, deeper thoughts, and time for unscripted, even revelatory moments, like Kamala Harris’ meltdown when Gabbard grilled her about her record as California attorney general.

Those television executives who like their news to be superficial and swift think presidential debates should be the same way.  And they’ve spent their professional lives depending on polls – ratings – whose quality has always been suspect, so they’re comfortable with letting polls pick their debate cast list.

But one recent poll that confirmed the top 10, from Monmouth University, was based on a sample of 298 registered voters.

A national sample of 298?  As they say in New Jersey, probably not far from the Monmouth campus – FUGGEDDABOUDIT!!

At the bottom of the fine print containing that information is this estimate – the poll results have a margin of error of plus or minus 5.7 percentage points.  Let me translate:  That means, when we say Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren now lead with 20 percent voter support, we mean their support could be 14 percent or 26 percent, and poor Joe Biden, now fallen to third place at 19 percent could really be at 13 percent, or he could be leading with 25 percent.

This unbelievably crappy poll was given lead-all status by both The New York Times and Washington Post, with The Times concluding it showed the race was “increasingly a battle of three candidates” —Biden, Sanders and Warren.  Everyone else, The Times didn’t need to say, should go home.




John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, writes about politics for The Nation as its national-affairs correspondent. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books, and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress. Nichols also hosts Next LeftThe Nation’s podcast featuring interviews with rising progressive politicians who explain how they plan to change our country for the better.

Nichols is a contributing writer for The Progressive and In These Times and the associate editor of the Capital Times, the daily newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin. His articles have appeared in The New York TimesChicago Tribune, and dozens of other newspapers.

Nichols is the author of Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Guide to the Most Dangerous People in America (Nation Books) as well as The Genius of Impeachment (New Press); a critically acclaimed analysis of the Florida recount fight of 2000, Jews for Buchanan (New Press); and a best-selling biography of former vice president Dick Cheney, Dick: The Man Who is President (New Press), which was also published in French and Arabic.

The UE endorsement was announced after a week in which Sanders and other contenders for the Democratic nomination sought to outdo one another when it came to taking the side of organized labor. The new tone represents a substantial shift in the tenor of Democratic politics from the days when the so-called “New Democrats” of the 1990s and 2000s sought to distance the party from the ardent pro-union politics tracing back to when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt aligned with organized labor and the working class.



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