Who decides how many candidates and which of them will be nominated by the Democratic party in a presidential election?


1 Answer 1


The candidates

In the United States, candidates are self-nominating. So as many candidates as want to do so can appear. There is no upper limit. This is not specific to the Democrats but true of the Republicans as well.

There are some limiting factors. To appear on the ballot, a candidate generally has to gather signatures from registered voters. That is done separately in each state and candidates don't have to appear in all states. However, I don't believe that there are any states that have started that process yet. So no one has succeeded in getting on a ballot. Nor failed. Right now, candidates self-nominate.

There are some informal limits. For example, some people will be invited to debates and some won't. That will be determined by those who manage the debates, traditionally the national parties in the primaries. So you could assert that the national parties choose who participate in the debates and thus who is considered a serious candidate. The news organizations also tend to ignore certain kinds of candidates as gadflies.

According to Politico:

For its first two debates this year, the DNC said a candidate may qualify for the stage either by reaching 1 percent support in three separate polls — including national polls or early nominating state polls — or by meeting a grass-roots fundraising threshold.

The 2016 general election threshold was 15%. But as a practical matter that only counts if Andrew Yang runs as an independent in the general election, not as a Democrat in the primary. Regardless, this is a threshold for appearing in debates, not a ballot threshold.

Single nominee

Only one candidate will be the Democratic nominee for president in the general election. That person is officially chosen by the convention but has traditionally had some claim to be the plurality winner of the popular vote in the primaries. In 2008, two candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, could claim to have won in the primaries. This is because a state had limited votes due to moving their primary dates earlier than allowed. So Hillary Clinton won the vote including that state (Michigan) and Barack Obama won without it.

My point is that if you are asking how many candidates can seek the Democratic nomination officially, that's unlimited. Only one candidate will be nominated by the Democratic party. That person will almost certainly have a claim to having won the popular vote, although it's technically the convention that chooses.

  • Thanks. Why didn't more from the thousands of Democratic candidates strive to get on the ballot in more states, then?
    – Probably
    Commented Feb 17, 2019 at 16:13
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    If we are claiming that there are thousands of candidates, then mostly because they didn't have the resources. It took millions of dollars for Gary Johnson to get on the ballots in all fifty states. Jill Stein was not able to do so. Candidates need either money or volunteers to get on the ballot (or preferably both). In 1992, it was estimated that it took 1500 contributors or volunteers to run a competitive Congressional campaign. For president, that same number might be over a million now. The number might be lower in the primaries, but it's not going to be within normal means.
    – Brythan
    Commented Feb 17, 2019 at 16:21
  • Thanks so much. I got to this because in one article, they discuss whether Yang will be able to gain 15 % support. Is there some kind of consensus that's about the minimal support one has to have to stand a chance? shift.newco.co/2018/10/01/can-andrew-yang-get-to-15-percent
    – Probably
    Commented Feb 17, 2019 at 16:37
  • 15% was the debate limit in 2016. Gary Johnson (and Stein) did not appear in the debate due to not making that limit. Note: "We could be, if Andrew Yang can poll above 15 percent in time for the Democratic debates next year." I'm not sure that 15% is going to be the limit in the Democratic debates. But it might be. Apparently the NY Times think it will be (there's a link in the article that may be behind their Heisen-paywall). I found more information. I'll edit the question.
    – Brythan
    Commented Feb 17, 2019 at 16:54
  • Also, 15% is the vote share needed in a state in order to get a share of delegates for the Democratic convention.
    – Joe C
    Commented Feb 17, 2019 at 21:22

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