Oh, the Unfairness!


The right to participate in the last Democratic debate, on February 7, depended on the satisfaction of both a polling criterion and a donor criterion. In this, it was similar to the prior seven debates of this season, though the requirements had ratcheted up over time. The detailed criteria for the last debate are set forth in the footnote.[1]

The next debate wll be in Nevada, on February 19. Mike Bloomberg is one hundred percent self-funding. If you try to give him some money, he won’t take it. Obviously, then, he would fail the donor criterion, and would not be allowed to participate. (Small qualification: while he won’t take an outright donation, he will sell you a nice T-shirt for $22.25.)

On January 31, the Democratic National Committee announced the any donor criterion would be eliminated for the Nevada debate and for future debates. This will allow Bloomberg to be on the stage, provided he meets the polling criterion, which he has not yet fulfilled.

A State of High Dudgeon

Bernie and the Bernie Brothers are having a conniption about the DNC’s changing the rules to allow one hundred percent self-funded zillionaires to debate. They have had a lot to say about “unfairness” and “rigged systems.” Steyer and Yang, likewise, were not best pleased. (I haven’t researched what, if anything, the rest of the candidates have said.)

I myself will pass on “rigged,” but I won’t quarrel with “unfair.”

I suspect that the DNC did not have one hundred percent self-funded zillionaires in mind when they established the donor criterion in the first place. Who would have thought that such an animal might exist? I assume they were trying to use some metric for intensity of support.

Be that as it may, changing the rules in the middle of the game is still changing the rules in the middle of the game. So, as I said, I won’t take issue with “unfair.”

Sometimes, in Life, Every Possible Choice is Unfair to Someone

Take this example: scheduled at the same time, on the same day, in three different places, are (a) your son’s ballet recital, (b) your daughter’s soccer match, and (c) your boss’s birthday party. Whichever one you choose to attend, the other two will feel slighted and think you have acted unfairly.

So, with that thought in might, please permit me to ask …

What About Fairness to Me?

I’ll give Bernie and the Bernie Brothers “unfair,” but what about fairness to me?

Bloomberg is among the candidates I am considering. My choice will be vastly more informed if I can see and hear Bloomberg on the stage standing next to the other candidates who remain on my list.

Depriving me of that opportunity is unfairly depriving me of the ability to make a fully informed choice.

What is Bernie’s Real Concern?

There have been nine debates so far, and the criteria have changed every time, or almost every time. It sounds to me as if Bernie’s true beef is not about changing the rules in the middle of the game. It is that he would like the game “rigged”—or feel free to pick a less pejorative term, if you would like—effectively to prevent one hundred percent self-funded zillionaires from running at all.

Now, I think you could make a respectable argument along those lines. But it would be good to be forthright about what you are actually saying.


Four-Poll Threshold A candidate needed at least five percent support in four different pollspublished from a list of approved pollsters between December 13, 2019 and February 6, 2020, which can not be based on open-ended questions and must cover either the national level or the remaining early states of New Hampshire, Nevada, or South Carolina. Only one poll from each approved pollster counted towards meeting the threshold for each region. The approved pollsters are the Associated PressABC News/The Washington PostCBS News/YouGovCNNFox NewsMonmouth UniversityNational Public Radio/PBS Newshour/MaristNBC News/The Wall Street JournalNBC News/Marist,The New York Times/Siena CollegeThe Nevada Independent/Mellman Group, Quinnipiac University, the University of New HampshireUSA Today/Suffolk, and Winthrop University. For organizations that appear in pairs with other entities, only polls conducted by the listed pairings are permitted. Organizations listed individually can partner with any other entity or field polls independently.
Early State Polling Threshold Alternatively to the four-poll threshold, a candidate qualified with at least seven percent support in any two polls from the same list of organizations and time period in the remaining early states of New Hampshire, Nevada, or South Carolina. This threshold does not require that different organizations or regions be used, but also does not include national polls.
Fundraising criterion By the February 6, 2020 deadline, a candidate needed to receive financial support from a minimum of 225,000 unique donors, with at least 1,000 unique donors per state in at least 20 states and/or territories.
Delegate Threshold A candidate will automatically qualify if he or she gained at least one pledged delegate from Iowa for the Democratic National Convention even if no other requirements are met. Because the opinions of Iowa voters are included in this way, polls of Iowa can no longer be considered qualifying under either the Four Poll Threshold or the Early State Polling Threshold.