DNC Update: Presidential Debate Format – 2 Nights of Fun!

Hi Friends,

While President Trump declared a national emergency and then went golfing this weekend, the Democratic Party was hard at work building the necessary infrastructure to win in 2020. Huge strides were made this week on both the first two Democratic debates as well as the Democratic data ecosystem.

Here’s what you need to know:


The DNC announced NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo will host the first of our presidential primary debates, which will be in June. We also announced that CNN will host the second debate in July.

The Stage:

  • Because of the historic size of the field, both the first and second debates will have the option of being held over two consecutive nights. This is unprecedented and the result of a strong negotiation by the DNC.
  • The candidates will be assigned a night by random selection, so there is no “kids table” debate.
  • We’ve committed to doing the first two debates in primetime on weekday nights - these are not weekend debates.  
  • The first debate will be on NBC, so it will be broadcast and available on antenna TV, as well as through cable on MSNBC. The first two debates will also be streamed online for free, so folks without cable will have a lot of options.

Candidate Thresholds:

  • In the past, primary candidates have qualified for the debate stage by meeting a polling requirement. For the first two debates, we’re introducing a new metric - grassroots fundraising - to accompany a traditional polling requirement.
  • To meet our polling threshold, a candidate must reach at least 1% support in at least three reputable polls.
    • The DNC has provided a list of a wide array of reputable and established polls that it will use to qualify candidates, and that list includes both national and early state surveys.
  • To meet the grassroots fundraising threshold, a candidate must receive donations from 65,000 unique donors, with at least 200 unique donors per state in a minimum of 20 states.
    • The DNC reached this criteria after consultation with the digital community, including ActBlue, on historical trends in small donor fundraising and expectations for this cycle.
    • This grassroots fundraising requirement measures a candidate’s strength with small-dollar donors. Setting this benchmark for campaigns encourages and rewards them for engaging in work that the DNC believes they absolutely must do in order to beat Donald Trump.


While this update may have flown under the radar, a strong data ecosystem is one of the most critical assets out eventual Democratic nominee needs to win in 2020. This week, we announced a historic agreement that will give the nominee and our candidates more and better data.  

About the Plan:

  • Whether you’re working for a campaign or an outside group, whenever you talk to a voter, the entire progressive community can benefit from the outreach.
  • Candidates across the country will be the beneficiaries of millions of dollars of investments in cutting-edge voter-contact strategies.
  • We’ve made overhauling Democratic technology and data a cornerstone of the DNC's work, which benefits Democrats and progressives everywhere. This allows all of us to run smarter, more efficient and effective campaigns.

As always, we’re more than happy to talk through what these changes might mean for you and how you can get involved. Thank you for your partnership and onward to 2020!

In Solidarity,


Allison Zelman
Director of States