Why Are There So Many Democratic Candidates?

Feb 14, 2020

For the 2020 election, a whopping 29 Democratic presidential candidates initially ran to become their party's nominee. Now, there are eight Democratic contenders left in the running.

KUNR’s Jayden Perez spoke with Jeremy Gelman, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, about this trend of having large candidate pools, and some of the impacts.

 

PEREZ:  Both this election with the Democrats, and in 2016 with the Republicans, we saw a ton of presidential candidates running. Is that normal if we look back further than 2016, or has there been an increase in candidates?

GELMAN: It's an increase. Usually very early in the process, well before the Iowa caucuses, you can have eight to 10 candidates running. Usually in previous cycles, they would get whittled down to maybe five or six. I think part of the reason for that is Trump's success in 2016. He was viewed as an outsider candidate. He stuck it out through some primaries and caucuses, where he did well, and the Republican nominating rules benefited him in some states with a winner take all system, instead of the proportional one Democrats use. But I think the lesson of Trump is get into the race, see how it goes, stick with it, and there's a chance you can win. So a lot of people are taking that chance.

PEREZ: Looking back, why do you think there were so many Republican contenders back in 2016?

GELMAN: There's probably no one single reason. One is there are divisions in the Republican Party about what the philosophy of the party should be, and so you had different candidates representing those views. Jeb Bush was a very different candidate than Donald Trump, who is a different candidate than Carly Fiorina. So they are all sort of representing different brands of the Republican Party, and they had to sort that out through the primary process. It's hard to say which [reason] is causing it, but they're all probably contributing to it in their own ways, where we're seeing these bigger fields.

PEREZ: Do you think the number of candidates will continue to grow in future elections?

GELMAN: It's hard to know. My intuition is this is probably closer to a new normal than what we're used to, especially on the side that doesn't have an incumbent president. But parties respond to these large fields in different ways. The Democratic Party had their debates this time with all those requirements, and to their credit, it did whittle down the field a lot. You had a lot of fringe candidates that got out because they couldn't get onto the debate stage. In previous years, a lot of prominent party members would endorse. What's interesting this cycle is the prominent Democrats are staying out of it, right? Barack Obama isn't endorsing. In our state, Harry Reid isn't endorsing. So one way the parties can whittle down the field even further is to begin telling voters in their party who they support. Right now, we're not really seeing either party's insiders and former elected officials doing it, but in four years, in eight years, who knows? It may become common place again, where someone like Donald Trump ... really enjoys endorsing whichever Republican that he thinks would be best for the job. So these things fluctuate. I suspect the parties will figure out ways to respond.

PEREZ: With the growth of candidates [and] the larger field, how do you think that affects Nevada and its elections?

GELMAN: It's an interesting question. I think we're seeing it right now where Nevadans and Nevada Democrats are having a hard time deciding who they want. Early polls had Biden doing really well. Maybe Bernie's now doing a little bit better, but no one's going to get 50 percent of the delegates at the caucuses next week, which I think reflects Democrats nationally. Their challenge in picking between these candidates. But I think generally, you're going to split 70 or 80 percent of the vote, maybe 90 percent of the vote between five candidates. I think that it reflects the same difficulties all Democrats throughout the country are having. Nevada's no different in that way.

Jayden Perez is a junior studying at the Reynolds School of Journalism.