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Why Tonight’s Democratic Debate is Make-or-Break for Andrew Yang

Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:25 PM
Laurence Watt
Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:25 PM
  • The sixth and final Democratic presidential debate of 2019 kicks off in California tonight.
  • Only seven candidates are taking part, meaning Andrew Yang will expect more speaking time than he received in previous debates.
  • Polling in seventh place nationally, the entrepreneur needs something special ahead of the Iowa caucuses.

As if there wasn’t already enough political news this week, tonight is the sixth Democratic presidential debate. 

Kicking off in Los Angeles, Calif., seven candidates will face off on the debate stage – four fewer than took part in November’s debate. 

With fewer candidates taking part, there should be more time for debaters to challenge each other and get their messages out. Well, at least one candidate will hope that’s the case.

Speaking Time

Once written off as an outsider with no hope of winning the Democratic nomination, Andrew Yang has consistently silenced the naysayers. He’s qualified for every debate in 2019, completed the rounds with all the late-night show hosts, and consistently maintained around 2%-3% support in national polling.  

But it hasn’t been an easy ride. Despite his feats, Yang argues his campaign hasn’t always received fair coverage.  

During the last two-hour long MSNBC debate in November, Yang only spoke for six minutes and 43 seconds – the least of any candidate on stage.  


speaking time 1
Source: CNN 

But this is something the entrepreneur has become familiar with. Yang also got the least amount of time during the third debate  in September and less time than eight other candidates  during the fourth debate in October. 

With the Iowa caucus just over a month away, Yang will need PBS NewsHour and Politico to give him time to shine on the debate stage. After all, it could be the last chance he gets. 

Will This be Yang’s Final Debate?

Yang qualified for tonight’s debate, but only just. He met the criteria only two days before the deadline after a national Quinnipiac poll showed he had 4% support among Democratic voters and Democratic-leaning independent voters . 

The next debate will be hosted by CNN  on Jan. 14. It’s not yet known what the qualification criteria will be, but given the trend, it’s overwhelmingly likely to be stricter. That means Yang could have to win over substantially more voters and raise a lot more money. 

But regardless of the qualifying criteria, gaining more momentum is something Yang will have to inevitably do anyway. 

According to the latest national polling from Real Clear Politics, the entrepreneur is sitting in seventh place at 3.3%. 

polling data
Source: Real Clear Politics 

Although Yang is nipping at the heels of billionaire Mike Bloomberg polling at 5%, he has a mountain to climb to catch up with Senator Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, who have 19.3% and 27.8%, respectively.

A Breakout Moment

Television debates are essential for candidates running for office  – especially for candidates like Yang who is relatively unknown compared to the likes of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

The entrepreneur knows this. And he also understands that he desperately needs to generate momentum going into February.

During a rally earlier this year , Yang spoke about an inspirational speech presented by Barack Obama in 2007. The legendary address helped transform the then-Senator from being relatively unknown into a frontrunner for president.

Speaking to supporters, Yang said: 

I was talking to someone who worked on the Obama campaign and he described how that campaign was scuffling in October… Everyone was looking at them and saying, ‘Can this campaign do it?’ and then this weekend happened in 2007 and then their campaign caught fire. And that’s exactly what’s going to happen for us.

Tonight marks a make-or-break moment for Yang. He will need sufficient speaking time from the moderators to eloquently and passionately hit home his key policies.

At worst, this debate marks the beginning of the end for his campaign. At best, this is the night Yang silences critics once again and propels his campaign to new heights in 2020.