Debate Analysis: Bernie Seizes Big Victory From Tight Debate

By Noah Lieberman

It was a mixture of old and new, familiar and unexpected tonight in Charleston at the Democratic debate, and a similarly mixed night on the Ballotcraft market. As many predicted, the moderators largely avoided Martin O’Malley (much to his chagrin) and instead focused on the now fierce race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Our market reflected that dynamic, with a tight, shifting battle between the two for top price.

As one would expect, Senator Sanders quickly gained the upper hand in the market, dominating during the opening portion of the debate which focused on economic and domestic policy. He hit the same notes as usual, and saw the same rise we had seen in these portions of previous debates. As the debate shifted to foreign policy, Secretary Clinton’s forte, so too did the markets shift back to a tossup race between the two candidates. Clinton was helped by Sanders’ fumbling of a question on stopping domestic terrorism, and his insistence on linking foreign issues to domestic ones, especially Wall Street reform. As the debate closed, Sanders led Clinton by the slimmest of margins, 49.0 to 46.3, by far the closest difference we’ve seen thus far in the Democratic debates.

Which makes the result even more confusing. Sanders won in an absolute landslide, capturing two-thirds of our focus group vote, easily trouncing Clinton’s 25 percent. Such a slaughter would make you think Clinton barely showed up, so why did the market have such trouble separating her from Sanders? I believe the answer lies in the senator’s numerous calls to campaign finance reform and the impact of big banks on our politics. Alone, they make little impression on a trader, who see them as simply more of the same policy talk from Sanders. But to a focus group member, who takes the debate in more as a whole, they build a strong case against Clinton, without dirtying Bernie’s image since he never used an overt attack. Sanders figured out how to get back at Clinton without risking his reputation as being above the usual political attacks, whereas Clinton’s attacks on Bernie were more direct and obvious, and made her come across as desperate to take the Senator down. It remains to be seen how this will affect the vote in Iowa, but this strategy is certainly worth looking out for in future debates.


Debate Preview: Clinton And Sanders Fight For Iowa

By Noah Lieberman

As the last debate before the Iowa Caucus, tonight’s proceedings could have a significant impact on the course of the Democratic primary. Though three candidates will take the stage tonight, only two have a chance at standing victorious in the Hawkeye State, so here are the questions which will determine success for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Questions For Sanders

Will he match Clinton’s attacks?

The biggest development in the race since the last Democratic debate (aside from a few new polls showing a closer matchup in early states) is that the Clinton campaign finally seems to be treating Sanders as a legitimate threat for the nomination. Hillary and her squad have started to go after Sanders, attacking him for his more radical voting record, and Clinton herself has supposedly expressed disappointment in not starting this barrage sooner. It seems fairly obvious that she’ll continue this during tonight’s debate, but Sanders’ reaction is anything but.

In the past, his reactions to Clinton’s barbs have ranged from defensive to passive-aggressive, but Bernie has never met fire with fire, though perhaps the former Secretary of State has finally crossed the line. If he does, he’ll have to make it a measured response since anything too aggressive might not jive with his supporter’s vision of him, which is largely based on his ability to put politics aside for policy. Still, a response too limited may make him appear weak to undecided voters, or worse give implicit credence to Clinton’s charges. This is going to be more of a snap judgment on your part, but if Sanders starts to look out of his element, it might be time to dump his stock.

Can he close the race gap?

Though Sanders has started to look downright dominant in early primary states like New Hampshire and Iowa, he still lags behind nationally and in the South because of his poor numbers with African American and Hispanic voters. The Vermont senator’s message just hasn’t resonated with minority voters the way it has with other democrats, and this debate is one of his last chances to reach out to them before South Carolina and the other so-called SEC primaries. Sanders will have to clearly demonstrate why he is the better candidate on issues relevant to minority voters, and, more importantly, why Clinton is not.

Questions For Clinton

Can she show her passion?

Clinton’s biggest weakness thus far in the campaign is not a new one, and has many political commentators seeing flashbacks to 2008. Clinton, who again has more experience, endorsements, and money than her challenger, has failed to seal the deal because she just can’t get voters as excited as her rival. She’s been described as cold and robotic, seemingly going through the motions of the campaign to get to her long-prophesized presidency. In order to improve her chances at this debate, she’ll have to break from the script, break from her sometimes monotonous delivery, and give us some show of real emotion.

Can she make a case for moderateness?

Similarly, Hillary has spent the entire primary process drifting to the left, slowly adopting the more progressive positions of Bernie Sanders. This has left many wondering why they should vote for the more moderate Clinton if the party, including her, is destined to end up at Sanders’ positions. Clinton is going to have to separate the ideology from the policy and make the case for why her more centrist brand of liberalism has its merits compared to Bernie. Lately, she’s tried to reverse the narrative and emphasize the issues, like gun control, where she is more liberal than Sanders, but to truly put his campaign in the rearview, she’ll have to attack him at the core of his ideology.

Post-Debate Analysis: Ted Cruz Emerges Victorious While Donald Trump Surprises

By Noah Lieberman

Just like last month’s debate and just as many predicted, tonight’s debate was only ever going to be won by one of two candidates, Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Ted Cruz. Though each candidate on stage had their moments in the spotlight, the market never wavered, holding these two far above the rest of the crowd (though Christie and Trump both made runs at double-digits). More importantly, the market never wavered on its ordering of the two candidates, holding the Florida senator far above his Texan counterpart.

The two largely avoided each other for the night, with Cruz being more occupied in fending off attacks from Trump than anything else. But at just past 11 PM, already leading by double digits on the market, Rubio pulled out all the stops and began a full assault on Cruz, critiquing his record on everything from defense spending to pandering and flip-flopping for Iowans. The risk proved to be too much for Rubio, who allowed Cruz the opportunity to respond harshly without it seeming overly cruel or unprovoked. Cruz built on this with a strong closing statement after the break, pulling to within seven points by the end of the night, his smallest deficit of the day.

This error would prove to not only be Rubio’s undoing on the market, but also the final vote, where he not only did not win, but failed to even claim sole possession of second place. Senator Rubio finished tied with Governor Chris Christie and, surprisingly, Donald Trump, who all ended the night with 20% of our focus group’s vote. The biggest news out of these results is that Donald Trump’s bravado and swagger finally earned him some respect on the market, which was quite a surprise given his lackluster night on the market, complete lack of votes in past debates, and the barrage of boos he faced from the raucous South Carolina audience tonight. We’ll have more on what this means for future markets and perhaps the state of the race in our full analysis next week. Governor Jeb Bush earned a small amount of love from the focus group, a solid 10 percent.

But the big winner tonight was indeed Senator Cruz, who took the remainder of the focus group vote and first place for the second straight debate. This should lead him to continued success in Iowa, where he is possibly poised to win the first vote in this primary campaign. Our focus group praised how we handled himself against all attacks, and against Trump in particular, which should bode well for him as he faces increased challenges from his rivals as the new man to beat in the Hawkeye State.

The big takeaway tonight is that even though the market was quiet for much of the night, Ted Cruz was by far the best performer of the last twenty minutes. If you’re waiting until the last minute to place your bet on the night’s ultimate winner, it isn’t always wisest to go with the candidate on top. Go with the candidate with the most momentum, who will be leaving the freshest impression in the focus group’s mind.

Ballotcraft Portfolio

End of Debate: 12,125 (+2,125)

End of Night: 18,500 (+8,500)

Debate Preview: Rubio vs Cruz – Round Two

GOP Presidential Debate In Simi Valley

By Noah Lieberman

With just a few hours until the final Republican debate in Iowa, so much is on the line for the candidates. Such high stakes are sure to breed a competitive and interesting debate, so here are the questions you should be asking to make sure it’s also a successful one for you on the Ballotcraft market.

Is it just a two-man race?

Our markets have started to echo the mainstream media’s perceptions of the Republican debates, separating two candidates, Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. The two junior senators have risen in various polls over the past month, Cruz in Iowa and Rubio nationally, and much has been made of their oratorical slugfest in the last debate, which our traders gave to Cruz after predicting a Rubio victory for much of the night. Again Rubio heads into the debate with the advantage, up 38 percent to 27 at the time of writing, and his fight against Cruz to become the party’s main opposition to Donald Trump should again manifest itself into a fairly fun debate night. The two senators are fairly equally matched on foreign policy and the economy, each appealing to their own bases rather well, so the real question will be who excels in the other sections of the debate. The debate tonight is in South Carolina, potentially giving the more conservative Cruz the edge should social issues finally make an appearance at a Republican debate. This makes immigration the crucial issue for Rubio, which is exactly where he faltered in the last debate. So depending on which topic comes up first, be prepared to buy or sell these candidates accordingly.

The other question is whether other candidates will play into this at all. We’ll discuss which of the other candidates have the best shot at challenging the established order down below, but not many of them can really change the dynamic. That is except for Donald Trump, who has started to lash out at Senator Cruz as the poll numbers in Iowa start to tilt in the Texan’s favor. This could be a double-edged sword for Rubio, who will certainly enjoy having his opponent derided without getting his own hands dirty, but won’t like seeing Cruz get free facetime as he responds to Donald’s attacks.

Who is the dark horse?

Outside of the two frontrunners, no other candidate in the main stage debate sits below 4 percent or above 6.5 percent in our marketplace. This means that all of the other candidates are low-risk, high-reward gambles for anyone who thinks that they have a chance at winning it all. Trump remains the biggest gamble, as his message continues to resonate with his supporters but not with our focus groups. Perhaps this is the night that changes, but I wouldn’t bet on it (Similar arguments apply to Ben Carson). This leaves Bush, Christie, and Kasich, three governors all desperate for a big push in New Hampshire from the establishment of the party. They all are essentially hopeless candidates with current polling, but one good night could redeem their campaigns. Christie will give you the most memorable moments and has shown the willingness to engage other candidates throughout the night, so he’s probably your best bet, but Bush will likely get the most time out of the three simply due to name recognition. A portfolio with shares in two of these three candidates has the probability to pay off big should Rubio and Cruz falter.

BallotCraft Portfolio:

185 shares of Cruz

88 shares of Rubio

300 shares of Christie

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


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:

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.

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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