COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - 22 candidates were in Columbia over the weekend hoping to win over Midlands voters, but South Carolinians could only name a few of them when asked.
Today is the first Democratic Primary in the 2020 cycle, and experts at the University of South Carolina believe the candidates first priority should be introducing themselves to voters.
"This is not a debate as much as it's a political fashion show,” says Charles Bierbauer, USC professor and political analyst.
Some voters were even surprised the election cycle already started.
"I didn't even know there was a debate tonight,” Ian Anderson said.
Political scientist don’t find that to be uncommon. With 10 people on stage each night, there isn’t typically much time for candidates to make in-depth pitches to voters. But, experts say there is value in voters putting faces to names.
“It's the one time you see the candidates face-to-face, nose-to-nose in some cases,” said Bierbauer.
WIS spoke to nearly 10 voters and found no one WIS spoke to could name all the candidates who’ll be on the debate stage tonight. Specifically, no one interviewed was able to name Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, or New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. In addition, a couple mixed up Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) and Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii).
According to polling, these voters aren’t an anomaly. This week, the Associated Press found only 35 percent of Democratic voters are paying attention to the race.
However, experts say as the candidates compete in more debates, it’ll be easier for voters to follow the race.
"Part of this process is to begin to weed out those who just cannot sustain a campaign,” says Bierbauer.
The Democratic National Committee announced for the third round of the debates candidates will have to have higher polling numbers and more individual donors.
Voters say they look forward to this smaller field because they find it difficult to stay informed.
"I tune out and check in every now and then...it gets tiring and depressing,” said Avery Carter.