Debate Analysis: Clinton Tries To Maintain Status Quo, Can’t Stop Bernie’s Momentum


By Noah Lieberman

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For the first time in three debates, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton entered as a favorite on the markets, with the ability to potentially play it safe and remain on top for the entire night. Unlike the Republican debate, the lack of candidates in the debate gave Clinton a chance to control the narrative and control the pace of the debate. She stayed ahead of Sanders for almost the entire debate, as Bernie trailed by 5-10 percent until about 9:45. Sanders abandoned his campaign manager’s line of attack on the DNC and Clinton over the punishments for his campaign’s data breach, and struggled to generate momentum again in the first part of the debate, which focused on foreign policy. Clinton seemed poised and knowledgeable, and was even willing to deviate from President Obama on issues such as the crisis in Syria. For the first hour and a half of the debate, everything the experts speculated coming into the debate was coming true, and the market reflected that lack of new information, with very little change in the market.

However, as the focus of the debate shifted to social and domestic issues, something which did not happen in the Republican debate earlier this week, Sanders began to hit his stride and fight back. Though the questions on gun control didn’t quite work in his favor, since Hillary has a position more in line with the party on that issue, but as the questions turned to health care, education, and tax reform, Bernie began to catch up to and eventually pass Clinton. The market was satisfied that social issues came up, received the results it expected, and kept Bernie at an eight point lead until foreign-affairs questions came up again thirty minutes later, when Hillary got an uninterrupted four minutes to discuss the situation in Libya. She gave a middling answer and received a middling response, neither rising nor falling a great amount in the market, but it confirmed a truth about the Democratic debate: Traders know how the candidates will respond on issues; it is just a matter of which opportunities each one will be given. Sanders couldn’t move past 52 percent on the market because that’s all the traders were willing to give him based on his past performance; all that mattered was that he had a chance to say his piece on social issues and didn’t screw it up. Similarly, prices moved very little when Hillary had her chance to talk on end about Libya because foreign issues had already been discussed and the market had already been swayed by the candidates’ answers on similar questions early on.

That is why prices stayed almost entirely stagnant for the last forty-five minutes of the debate, heading into the focus group vote with Senator Sanders holding a slight, eight point edge over Secretary Clinton. In the end, the focus group reflected that sentiment, giving Sanders the slightest of victories while praising his straight-shooter attitude and vigor on a range of issues. The reasons for his victory were very similar to the reasons given in the first debate he won, and reinforces the notion that not much has changed in the way voters and traders view the Democratic race. Sanders should probably be the favorite heading into the January debate, but if he doesn’t have a decisive victory soon, his chances of winning the Democratic nomination may soon drop to zero.


Insights From Our Focus Group

Our focus group declared Bernie Sanders the winner of the December 19 Democratic Debate. We asked members of our focus group for insights into their decision making process. Here’s a selection of their responses:

Bernie’s answers were straightforward and clear. Even on foreign policy, one of his weak points, he had a much better message that painted a clear contrast with Hillary’s more hawkish stance.

Hillary performed well despite some tough questions. Nothing tonight changes the underlying dynamic of this race.

Sanders had a great night. It worked to his benefit that the debate covered more than just terrorism and foreign policy. Sanders’ points on healthcare, the economy, and education were well-communicated. Hillary’s points on those issues were more convoluted, which muddled her message.

Sanders came across as thoughtful across a range of issues. He also handled the controversy surrounding campaign data well.

Clinton got hit pretty hard on foreign policy, having to explain why things haven’t worked out in Libya and Syria.

Martin O’Malley gives good answers, but unfortunately it’s not enough. He’s probably doing well enough to get the VP pick though. I can’t imagine Sanders would be interested.

Thanks again to our focus group for their help!

Bernie Sanders Wins Democratic Debate

Bernie Sanders is the winner of the December 19 Democratic Debate, as he was deemed by our focus group as the candidate to have “best improved his or her chance of winning the Democratic nomination”.

This is the breakdown of our focus group’s voting:

Dec 19 Dem debate winner

We will be regularly updating this blog with commentary from our focus group and analysis of trading behavior during the game, so check back again soon.

Special thanks to our focus group!

Debate Preview: Can Sanders Overcome The Odds?


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:

Though polling has remained pretty much constant since the last Democratic debate, the storylines and context are quite different heading into tonight’s ABC News debate in New Hampshire. In the past few days a new scandal has emerged implicating Bernie Sanders’ campaign in the stealing of Clinton campaign data. Meanwhile, terrorism has remained as the top issue for the media and many voters, giving the experienced Hillary Clinton the apparent edge for most of the debate. These things all conspire to bring a premature end to the Sanders campaign, which needs a good performance here to stay afloat heading into the new year. Will he be able to pull off the upset and improve his odds, and how will this all affect the market tonight? We explore all that and more in our preview below:

Can Bernie Use The Scandal To His Advantage?

Just as the terror attacks in Paris very suddenly changed the focus of last month’s Democratic debate, the breaking news that a Bernie Sanders staffer improperly used Clinton campaign voter data will undoubtedly change the course of tonight’s event in New Hampshire. While the Sanders camp is probably more than a little upset about the timing of this past week’s events, there is a chance that Bernie could turn this would-be scandal into a positive. To be sure, Clinton and the moderators will attack him quite a few times for this behavior, questioning his commitment to the party and his devotion to fair elections. But the harsh, and since rescinded, punishment of the DNC plays into one of Bernie’s biggest storylines of this campaign: He is running as the voice of the people, but the party establishment is doing everything in its power to ignore them and give the nomination to Clinton.

He’s already stressed this argument by complaining about the limited and more-or-less buried debate schedule, a point he’ll be sure to hit at this debate held the Saturday before Christmas, when almost no one will be watching, but the action of the party will just give him more fodder. His campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, has already made their feelings on the matter clear, saying in a statement “the leadership of the Democratic National Committee is now actively attempting to undermine our campaign.” If Senator Sanders comes out with similarly strong language, shifting the tone of the race to one of direct competition, then two things could happen: Either he succeeds, flustering Hillary and energizing his supporters around the country, winning the debate and perhaps gaining a crucial edge in the primary, or he fails, coming off as overly aggressive or defensive, looking like a man trying to spend conspiracy theories and undercutting his seriousness as a candidate on a national stage. This will likely be such an important topic in the debate that I might even hold off investing until it comes up, but either way expect prices to change dramatically once it does.

Will Domestic Issues Get More Of A Focus?

The terrorist attacks in Paris which happened mere hours before the last Democratic debate forced the focus of the debate to be shifted away from domestic and economic issues, where Sanders is strongest, to foreign affairs, where Clinton is undoubtedly the most experienced candidate of the three. The change in subject hurt Sanders, who lost an impressive lead in the market and the final focus group vote to Clinton, and he was vocal about his disappointment about the lack of time given to domestic issues. Along with the recent data scandal, ABC has promised to make the terror attack in San Bernardino and prevention of future attacks on US soil a focal point tonight, which may leave little time for the talk of tax reform and government spending which give Sanders most of his appeal.

Again, my strategy on this matter depends largely on how the Vermont Senator handles it if things don’t work out favorably for him. Allowing the focus to rest on counter-terrorism measures won’t let him overcome his deficit to Secretary Clinton, but if he changes topics abruptly or without reason, he risks coming off as a single-issue candidate. He’ll have to find a more solid connection between these security risks and his social reform to stay competitive if the moderators make things difficult.

Can O’Malley Regain Relevance?

Finally, we turn to the third candidate on the stage, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, whose inspiring if somewhat reserved performance at the first debate caused his stock price to skyrocket before putting up a thoroughly disappointing follow-up last month.  He’s currently a non-entity both on the campaign trail and the markets, so this a real make-or-break moment for him, one that will necessitate bold moves and strong rhetoric. Chances are good that the governor doesn’t get many options to show off tonight based on his position in the polls, but if he doesn’t make a move for himself, he could still change the game for other candidates. Just as Bernie helped Clinton out by saying the public was “tired of hearing about her damn emails”, if O’Malley plays down the data breach or agrees that domestic issues warrant discussion, then he’ll give Sanders a major hand. Then again, if he sides with Clinton or stays out of it, the burden of overcoming everything against him may be too much for Bernie, and he may lose his second debate in a row.

Post-Debate Analysis: Cruz’s Aggressive Strategy Pays Off


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:

With the most recent Republican debate concluded just moments ago, let’s take a look at how the night developed on the BallotCraft market and what that means for the future of the campaign.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio entered the debate in an enviable position: he led the rest of the field by a mile, with seemingly no possibility of being toppled. And for the first hour of the debate it looked as though that this would remain the state of the race, as the infighting between the other candidates kept him looking presidential and on top of the market. More importantly, it kept other candidates who had a chance at dethroning him from coming close, as the outsiders trying to solidify support couldn’t speak long enough to make their case. By the time we were one hour in, he had a 30 point lead over the next closest competitor, at 46 percent to Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s 16 percent.

However, as the night progressed and questioning began to focus on the leading candidates, Cruz began to break away from the rest of the pack. Though Donald Trump had put in his best performance of the campaign by staying steady at 11%, Cruz made the big statements and fought enough against the moderators and competitors to distinguish himself as the clear second-place candidate. From there on out it was a slow-burning battle between the two senators, with Cruz gradually gaining ground from the other candidates while Rubio declined even more slowly. Rubio held a 23 point lead at 10:00, a 20 point lead 15 minutes later, and a ten point lead ten minutes after that. The two candidates largely stayed out of each other’s way, and the market was slow to react for that very reason.

That is until the two came into direct conflict over immigration. Cruz and Rubio had the most memorable battle of the night over amnesty, slamming each other over their past positions. Though the audience didn’t seem to favor one over the other, the market clearly thought Cruz the victor and he shot up past his Floridian counterpart to a 44 to 23 lead, his first of the night. The lead continued to build as the traders had time to reflect on the exchange, peaking at a 28 point advantage for Senator Cruz. Though that lead slightly receded following the next commercial break, Cruz clearly came out on top. From there the market bent slightly as each candidate spoke, granting Rubio a few points when he talked about military spending, and a few for Cruz as he spoke on his fellow candidates. Closing remarks brought little change as well as all nine candidates stuck mostly to their talking points, with the prices heading into closing had Rubio at just over 25 and Cruz at 52 percent.­

When the final votes of our focus group were cast, they echoed the market’s sentiment: Cruz won over Rubio by a healthy, though still competitive, margin, 43% to 28%. Fiorina, Christie, and Paul also received votes, though not enough to think they are suddenly relevant in these debate markets again. This clearly indicates that Cruz vs. Rubio is the outsider/insider matchup to watch, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the rest of the debates, and perhaps most of the primaries, were only won by one of these two candidates.

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Insights from Our Focus Group

Our focus group declared Ted Cruz the winner of the December 15 Republican Debate. We asked members of our focus group for insights into their decision making process. Here’s a selection of their responses:

Ted really showed that he is a leader. He was focused, concise and convincing. He has detailed plans and policies that he can articulate to the people. And he zinged Trump about paying for the wall. That was great! Trump was more foolish than ever. Carson faded. Rubio stumbled on immigration. How will he overcome his Gang of 8 association? And Jeb who?

Cruz built on the momentum he’s had on the campaign trail with a solid performance. He was much more of a presence in this debate than in the previous ones, and he hit the right notes on the issues. He also got the better of Rubio in their exchange about immigration.

I think a lot of the sort of micro-exchanges cut a lot of different ways, “This person won this one, that person won that one.” But I don’t think any of them were searing or memorable, so stepping back from the micro-exchanges a bit, I think it comes down to the impression that the candidates left with viewers and Marco came across well early and more in style and in tone, I think he came across as he hoped to and that will resonate well with the people he is going after. And I think Cruz basically has done what he wanted as well – drawing distinctions with Marco and coming across as strong and tough.

Christie came out swinging and showed himself to be the adult in the room. He did not engage in the pettiness some of the other candidates did.

Rubio was attacked from all sides, by Rand on national security and by Cruz on immigration. He’s one of the most gifted politicians of his generation, but he lost his step a bit under that much bombardment. Also, given how well he performed in the last debates, the bar was just that much higher for him. Despite all that, I’d still say he came in a solid second behind Cruz, but there was no question that he was second.

I find Fiorina’s personal story compelling. She is not shy about making her voice heard.

Rand Paul hit Trump hard on the Internet. He also landed a few decent blows on Rubio.

Thanks again to our focus group for their help!

Ted Cruz Wins Republican Debate

Ted Cruz is the winner of the December 15 Republican Debate, as he was deemed by our focus group as the candidate to have “best improved his or her chance of winning the Republican nomination”.

This is the breakdown of our focus group’s voting:

Dec 15 Rep Deb winner

We will be regularly updating this blog with commentary from our focus group and analysis of trading behavior during the game, so check back again soon.

Special thanks to our focus group!