democratic debates

Does Harris’s Withdrawal Mean the Next Debate Will be All White?

The December debate lineup isn’t set just yet. Photo: Marcus Ingram/MSNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

One of the most ubiquitous reactions to Kamala Harris’s sudden withdrawal from the 2020 presidential contest was this reflection on the remaining candidates who have already qualified for the December debate in Los Angeles:

Some observers making this factual point (factual at the moment, at least) added a little edge to it:

And even this:

First of all, it should be noted that there are nine days left before qualifying for the December 19 debate ends, and two nonwhite candidates — Andrew Yang and Tulsi Gabbard — are within a single national qualifying poll of making the stage. So the all-white-debate narrative may well be premature.

Second of all, Cory Booker has been on every debate stage up until now. But his stagnant national and early state polling numbers have not kept up with the gradually increasing but still-low polling thresholds created by the DNC. Like a lot of observers, I don’t completely understand why Booker hasn’t caught on a bit better despite perhaps the most consistently solid debate performances of any candidate. But he hasn’t, so far, and that’s not because the DNC has denied him positive exposure.

And third of all, part of the reason nonwhite candidates have struggled is that nonwhite voters aren’t supporting them all that strongly. The last national poll to offer white/nonwhite cross tabs, a November 21–24 survey from CNN, showed 76 percent of nonwhite voters preferring one of the white candidates who have already qualified for the December debate. One percent of them prefer Booker (Yang does a lot better with five percent). Yes, the preferences of nonwhite voters are constrained by what they believe white voters will accept. But the fact remains that in this and other polls, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are doing significantly better among nonwhite than white voters.

Can the Democratic Party as a whole do more to encourage women and minority candidates to run for office, including the presidency? Sure. But a party organization that has been accused in the past of putting a thumb on the scale for this or that candidate can’t really be blamed for at least trying to defer to popular demand in providing access to the debate stage.

Does Harris’s Exit Mean the Next Debate Will Be All White?