By Noah Lieberman
Ballotcraft is a fantasy politics game (think fantasy football, but for politics). Play against your friends and win by best predicting what’s going to happen in upcoming elections. Sign up and play here: www.ballotcraft.com.
This is part one of our three-part series analyzing Ballotcraft’s market data during the first Democratic Presidential Debate, covering the trends that dominated and how a savvy investor could use them in the future.
The biggest winner Tuesday night was without a doubt Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who won our undecided voter focus group with a walloping two-thirds majority. However, the night was not entirely smooth sailing for the self-described Democratic Socialist. Though he owned at least a share of the lead for the entire debate, his price was dropping from the start, starting at 53.4 and ending at 40.9. Though his decline wasn’t as rapid as Kasich and Carson’s were during the last Republican debate (and unlike those two Sanders did end the night in the lead and won the final vote), this still showed a concerning amount of weakness for someone who was trading at or above 60 percent for much of the day of the debate.
Not surprisingly, Sanders’ most vulnerable moment was during the prolonged discussion of gun control, the rare issue on which Sanders takes a more conservative stance than his competitors. During this discussion and for a short while after, Bernie’s lead began to melt away, his price dropping 7.6 points over a span of 20 minutes, which accounted for over half of his total price change over the night. Not helping matters for the senator was the fact that the gun question was followed very closely by a commercial break, giving the market plenty of time to mull over his weaker answers. However, Bernie came out of the gates strong after the break, delivering the most memorable line of the debate (I too am tired of hearing about Hillary’s damn emails) and reestablishing some stability for his price, which would only drop another two points during the remaining hour and forty minutes of the debate.
One bright note for Sanders on the market was that his price seemed tied only to his performance, cementing his status as frontrunner in the eyes of our traders. When Martin O’Malley made his climb during the back half of the debate, steadily rising 20 points in an hour, Sanders barely felt it, falling only 2.6 points during the same period. Instead, Hillary Clinton took the brunt of the damage, dropping 13.2 points. This means the market viewed Clinton and O’Malley as being more in conflict with each other (to be the mainstream alternative to Sanders) than as direct competitors to Sanders himself. Likewise, as Sanders price fell, the lost points were pretty equally redistributed among his rivals, reaffirming this idea of “Bernie versus the field”.
Putting all of this together, we see a pretty rosy picture for Sanders supporters and buyers during upcoming debates. Sanders’ message of a new liberal revolution is as appealing to hear over the airwaves as it is in person at his massive rallies, which is why he can largely avoid interaction with his fellow candidates and decide his own destiny. The only downside of this for buyers is that it may drastically over- or undervalue his actual chance of winning, as it did this week, since he isn’t really being compared to the other debaters, just to our collective expectations of him. Still, barring a transcendent performance from O’Malley or Clinton, I’d say Sanders is the odds on favorite to win next month in Des Moines, so go join a new market and buy big now.