After weeks of being deprived of watching Trump announce outrageous plans for the country (oh, wait — never mind) and listening to Cruz try to look better than everyone else (oh wait — never mind), the fifth GOP debate is just days away, and it appears the next round actually has some surprises in store for the American public. If you thought for a second that means viewers might get to actually see some different faces (a few more promising candidates, perhaps?), you're sadly mistaken. The candidates will be the same. It's the criteria for attending the debate that CNN is changing up. So what poll percentage do the GOP candidates need this time around to be asked to the Dec. 15 presidential debate? It turns out there are a few ways to get an invite.
In past rounds, candidates could gain access to the primetime or undercard debates by reaching or surpassing a minimum polling percentage based on national polling data. For the fourth debate, candidates needed to score an average of at least 2.5 percent in four national polls conducted prior to the event. For the upcoming Dec. 15 debate in Las Vegas, GOP candidates can still qualify through national poll percentages. They need to average at least 3.5 percent in polls taken between Oct. 29 and Dec. 13.
Republican presidential hopefuls can also qualify by way of their polling percentages in the states of Iowa and New Hampshire, though. If a candidate has maintained an average of at least 4 percent in polls conducted in either state, they can make it to the primetime round.
According to USA Today's national poll, which was conducted between Dec. 2 and 6, Donald Trump has a significant lead at 29.3 percent. Ratings for Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and Ben Carson all sit between 13 and 16 percentage points, making these four pretty much shoo-ins for the primetime round.
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina face a possible vote off the primetime island. Bush may fare better, with a current average of 3.8 percent in national polls and a score of 6.8 percent in New Hampshire polls. But Fiorina's 2.5 percent nationally and 5.3 percent in New Hampshire could easily bring her down to the undercard debate.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, whose poll numbers sat close to the 3.5 percent threshold when CNN announced the debate criteria, is likely out of the running, with an average of just 1.8 percent in national polls. None of these three have to worry just yet about missing out on the event entirely, though, as the percentage required to attend the undercard round is an average of 1 percent.
CNN's criteria for this round is a big deal for candidates like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who didn't make the cut for FOX Business Network's primetime debate, but has seen strong, consistent polling numbers in New Hampshire. Christie is averaging 7 percent in the New England state's polls. John Kasich, who surprised just about everyone with his ability to cling onto a primetime slot for the fourth debate, could also find a spot at the big kids' table much easier this time with his success in New Hampshire, where he is averaging 8 percent in polls.