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.
Hillary Clinton was the big winner Saturday night, taking the Ballotcraft market by storm and seizing victory in the final focus group vote from last month’s winner Bernie Sanders. It was a slow and steady climb to the top for the former Secretary of State, who nearly doubled the price of her stock over the course of the night. Throughout the night, she seemed strong and experienced, and her message of moderate liberalism resonated enough with our focus group for over 70% of them to vote her the winner of the debate. She balanced offense and defense appropriately, and finally let her lifetime in politics define her as an elder statesman, rather than a conniving politician.
The elephant in the room, of course, is the coverage of this debate, which has centered around one of Clinton’s poorer responses in which she avoided a question on Wall Street donations by citing both September 11th and her gender. While the motivation and reasoning behind this answer can be debated, it was undoubtedly bad wording, destined to be played over and over on cable news and online. It was the worst moment of the debate, and will certainly haunt Clinton in the relatively inactive period of politics we face for the next four weeks. And in our market and focus group, it did not matter.
Now, to be sure, there was a response in the market. Clinton’s price dipped after the answer, from 48.1 to 44.5, slowing her momentum and prolonging the dissipating lead of Senator Sanders. But Clinton had put on by far the strongest performance in the first half of the debate, relying on her ample and unrivaled experience in foreign policy, and finished out strongly as well. Moreover, Sanders and O’Malley had their fair share of rough spots as well. Particularly harmful were Bernie’s inability to eloquently elaborate on the specifics of his plans to bring single-payer healthcare and free college to the American people. Though Sanders let Clinton get into striking range on the market in the foreign policy-centric first half of the debate, traders looked willing to forgive if he could reestablish himself in the second half. But a renewed scrutiny on his more idealistic platform kept him from simply mimicking his responses in the last debate. Ultimately his inability to adapt led to his downfall, as he dropped 13 points in the second half of the debate, compared to less than 7 in the first.
The big takeaway here is that, since our focus groups watch the entire debate, they are more likely to use the whole of the debate as a measure of each candidate’s performance. We’ve seen it in the Republican debates, where even the biggest faux pas don’t hold candidates back from contending for the title. In future debates this means our investors should restrain from overreacting to big moments and stick with candidates unless they entirely collapse. Speaking of which, one final note on Martin O’Malley: He was essentially a non-entity on the market this weekend, a departure from his earlier success. I this means he is pretty much done as an investment on Ballotcraft, and should be avoided in the next debate if he hasn’t resigned by this time next month.