Harris’s withdrawal this month drew attention to the likelihood that the December debate would not include any of the black candidates running for president. Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) and former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick had yet to qualify for the debate at the time of Harris’s exit and eventually did not.
Given the importance of black voters to the Democratic Party, the absence of a single black or Hispanic candidate led some to fear that the issues that mattered most to liberal black Americans could be ignored. Former housing secretary Julián Castro, the only Latino pursuing the presidency, also did not qualify. That led some to fear that the debate could be dominated by white Americans during a time when diversity is of high priority to the left.
But it’s not completely accurate that the debate will be absent of diversity. In some ways, Thursday’s participants will still be among the most diverse ever to debate for a presidential nomination nod. More than half of the 2020 Democratic candidates are politicians who are not white men.
Here’s a look at how diversity will be represented in Thursday’s debate
An Asian American: Entrepreneur Andrew Yang will be the only person of color on the debate stage. But his presence is not insignificant. Asian Americans are the fastest growing minority group in the country but have often been left out of conversations about systemic racism, immigration and other race-based issues. Yang has attempted to use his platform to challenge voters to broaden the conversation about race in America.
Women: While it is no longer uncommon to see women such as Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) seeking the highest office in the land, women remain underrepresented in top political positions. The 2016 election was the first time a woman — former secretary of state Hillary Clinton — won a major political party’s nomination.
A gay man: South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) is the first openly gay politician to seek the Democratic nomination. His lead in multiple polls has been viewed as not only historic but a triumph for many gay rights activists who longed to see the issues affecting the LGBT community in policy conversations.
Jewish and religiously unaffiliated: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), has said Judaism has shaped his politics but has also said he is “not actively involved in organized religion.” Jewish Americans have been a reliable bloc within the Democratic Party for decades, but every presidential nominee has been a Christian. As the U.S. population becomes more religiously diverse, the desire for others of faith — and the unaffiliated — to have a more influential seat at the table has grown.
This group of moderators is quite diverse, as well. It includes three women — Judy Woodruff; Yamiche Alcindor, a black American, and Amna Nawaz, who is Asian American.
Some candidates have called for the Democratic Party to revisit the criteria that has made qualifying for the debates so difficult for some candidates.
“I’m a little angry, I have to say, that we started with one of the most diverse fields in our history, giving people pride,” Booker said on MSNBC this month. “And it’s a damn shame now that the only African American woman in this race, who has been speaking to issues that need to be brought up, is now no longer in it.”
Democratic National Committee communications director Xochitl Hinojosa defended the organization’s “fair and transparent process” in a statement last week.
“The DNC will not change the threshold for any one candidate and will not revert back to two consecutive nights with more than a dozen candidates,” she said. “Our qualification criteria is extremely low and reflects where we are in the race.”
But it’s worth noting that one reason the field is looking less ethnically diverse is because the candidates that most voters — including people of color — are backing are white.
Results from the most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll revealed that the white candidates have earned more than 80 percent of the support from Democratic primary voters. The white male candidates received nearly 60 percent of all support.
But it remains true that many Democrats — especially black voters and women, two of the Democratic Party’s most reliable demographics — want to see the field include more diverse voices and have them remain in the race longer. For issues affecting marginalized U.S. populations to get the attention that some voters desire, individuals from those communities may need a seat at the table — and in this case, a lectern on the stage.