And they’re off! Six Republican presidential candidates appear to have qualified for their party’s first primary debate on Aug. 23, thanks to a pair of polls from Beacon Research/Shaw & Company/Fox Business released on Sunday that measured the preferences of likely GOP voters in Iowa and South Carolina. Based on FiveThirtyEight’s analysis, the two surveys increased the number of total polls that can, according to the Republican National Committee’s guidelines, qualify a candidate for the stage to five.
A quick refresher: To qualify for the debate, candidates have to meet two different campaign metrics for polling and campaign donors. First, they must earn 1 percent support in three national polls, or in two national polls and two polls from the first four states voting in the GOP primary, each coming from separate states, based on polls recognized by the RNC and conducted in July and August before the debate. Meanwhile, a candidate must also attain at least 40,000 unique donors, with at least 200 contributors from 20 or more states and/or territories.
There aren’t many surprises in terms of who has met these standards so far. Former President Donald Trump is polling around 50 percent in FiveThirtyEight’s national primary polling average and easily has enough donors. The same goes for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who’s running in second place across most national and early state polls. Two South Carolinians, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott, have also made it. Tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy has built and maintained a support base, surpassing Haley and Scott in national polls and easily clearing the 40,000 donor mark. And former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has also attracted enough support and contributors to get his anti-Trump voice on stage. These six qualified candidates are all polling above 2 percent nationally; the only contender polling that well who hasn’t yet announced he’s met the donor threshold is former Vice President Mike Pence.
When the standards were announced, one particular requirement caught FiveThirtyEight’s attention. According to RNC guidelines, only polls that surveyed at least 800 registered likely Republican voters could count toward qualification — a large sample, especially this early in the cycle, when many pollsters are still surveying simply registered voters or even just adults. Given that high threshold, it’s not surprising that it took slightly more than three weeks out of the seven-and-a-half week qualifying period before enough eligible surveys had been released for any candidate to qualify. The five polls that count toward the first debate are two national surveys conducted by Morning Consult and three early state polls, the two from Fox Business of Iowa and South Carolina and one from the University of New Hampshire of New Hampshire released last week. The pivotal inclusion of Morning Consult’s polling — which has provided both qualifying national surveys — wasn’t a given because the pollster has been sampling “potential” GOP primary voters, which doesn’t necessarily equate to “likely.” But the RNC confirmed to Politico earlier this month that it counted Morning Consult’s surveys. As a result, the six qualifying candidates each have two national polls to their credit as well as one poll from two or more separate early voting states, allowing them to meet one of the RNC’s polling qualification paths.
The other GOP candidates have until just before the Aug. 23 debate to meet the requirements, and at least a couple more have a decent chance of making it. Among the five candidates deemed “major” by FiveThirtyEight’s criteria who haven’t yet qualified, Pence clearly stands out: He has at least 1 percent support in all five surveys, but is still working toward 40,000 donors. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum garnered at least 1 percent in polls of Iowa and New Hampshire, but has yet to do the same in any qualifying national polls. Still, he’s met the donor threshold, thanks in part to a scheme in which his campaign gave a $20 gift card to any donor who contributed at least $1.
Three other candidates also have attained at least one qualifying poll, although they may struggle to reach the donor threshold. Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is now just one national poll away from having enough qualifying surveys — he’s garnered at least 1 percent in one nationwide survey and one poll each of Iowa and South Carolina — but he said earlier this month that he had only 5,000 donors. Former Texas Rep. Will Hurd, meanwhile, reached 1 percent in the UNH poll, but last week he revealed he was only about one-fifth of the way to 40,000 donors. Lastly, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez hit 1 percent in Fox Business’s Iowa poll, but there’s been no word on how close he is to 40,000 donors.
But even though candidates have now qualified for the debate, it’s uncertain if all of them will be on stage come August. Trump, in particular, has threatened to skip the debate to avoid giving his primary opponents a closely watched chance to attack him, although some personalities on Fox News — the first debate’s broadcaster — have publicly urged Trump to take part. Some contenders could also balk at another requirement the RNC has for debate participation: Candidates who meet the polling and donor thresholds also must sign a pledge that they’ll support the eventual Republican nominee for president. Trump hasn’t committed to signing it; Christie and Hutchinson have criticized the requirement; and Hurd has said he won’t sign it.
With about a month to go until the first primary debate, we know that at least some Republicans will be on stage in Milwaukee. But exactly who and how many remain to be seen.
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