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.


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 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.

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


By Noah Lieberman

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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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Post-Debate Analysis: Clinton Comes From Behind To Claim Crucial Victory

By Noah Lieberman

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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.

Clinton Nov Chart

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.

Clinton Nov Chart 2

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.

Post-Debate Analysis: Rubio Cruises To Unprecedented Victory

By Noah Lieberman

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Tuesday night’s Republican debate was full of exciting moments and quotes that are sure to repeated on the news for weeks to come. However, for all the excitement, bickering, and crazy moments, the debate was seemingly uninteresting on the Ballotcraft market. Marco Rubio had an astounding lead for the entire night and ended up winning the focus group vote at the end of the night. But there were some major trends behind the numbers, which will surely have an effect on future debates and markets. Here’s a quick look at the stories you should keep in mind for the next debate and beyond:

The story of the night, obviously, was Rubio’s complete domination of the entire field from start to finish. He built upon his great showing from two weeks ago (when he also won) and claimed his third debate crown of the campaign. Our focus group cited his poise and debating skill (specifically in his bout with Rand Paul) and awarded him a victory with 36% of the vote. This pales in comparison to his dominance in the market, where his stock reached record-setting highs of over 70 points. No one has ever done this well in a debate before on the Republican side, and with such a clear cut victory (especially over fellow moderates Jeb Bush and John Kasich) it isn’t hard to imagine Rubio finally moving into the upper echelon of candidates.

Rubio Nov Debate

The really impressive feature of Rubio’s performance is that he was able to completely shut out all of the other candidates, holding at least a 30-point lead for the entire debate. No other candidate had even held the lead for a whole debate, let alone built on it like he did, ending over 50 points ahead of the next closest competitor. However, one has to wonder if he has hit his ceiling, and will start to pay for it during the next Republican debate. Some of our focus group members mentioned his history of great performances as a reason for why they didn’t think he improved his standing the most. It would seem inevitable that more voters share this viewpoint come next month, when Rubio will surely face a tougher road to gain his fourth victory.

Other than Rubio, the most interesting trend of the night is the general confusion that consumed the four outsider candidates, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Donald Trump ended up floating around each other on the market for most of the night, as the traders failed to recognize one of them as the clear second choice candidate. This is an interesting break from precedent, since one of these four candidates has risen above the rest in each of the past three debates.

Outsider Nov Debate

In the final focus group poll, three of these candidates (Cruz, Fiorina, and Carson) received a sizable share of the vote, meaning this inability to select a winner of this faction was widespread. Should this continue in future debates, it might take one of these candidates dropping out or being relegated to the JV debate for the others to have a shot at winning it all.

Be sure to come back later this week for in-depth coverage and preview of the Democratic debate.

Post-Debate Analysis: Rubio Wins Big, But Fiorina Puts Up A Fight

Fiorina Rubio

By Noah Lieberman

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While Wednesday’s debate was shorter than the previous two, it was not without its share of excitement. Between the candidates’ vicious tone, the lack of control by CNBC’s inexperienced moderators, and the sometimes shocking answers, there was a lot to sway movement on the markets all night long. And yet, when push came to shove, only two candidates emerged with any real shot of winning the debate, and they just happened to be the two candidates who won the last two debates (and who we had forecasted to do well that night): Florida Senator Marco Rubio and CEO Carly Fiorina. Rubio entered the night as the clear favorite, up 10 points over the nearest competitor, while Fiorina was tied with two other candidates for second. During the run-up to the debate, which delayed quite a bit inexplicably, Fiorina began to close in on Rubio’s price, and by the time the first question was asked was down just 5 points.

Fiorina Rubio Oct Chart

From there she quickly gained on the senator, using her simple “get things done” message to win over the conservative parts of the internet and our traders. By 8:30, they were neck and neck and would stay that way for much of the night. They quickly surpassed the combined odds of the rest of the field, and by 9:45 the two combined for an over 65% chance of winning the debate. They had both proven to the audience that they were still the best debaters on stage and that one of the two of them would turn in the best performance.

However, not long after that, Rubio began to leave Fiorina in the dust. Ten minutes later, he was past 40%, up 10 over the former business leader. Fifteen minutes later his lead had increased by five points, and ten minutes after that it had increased to 20 points, where it would stay until the final vote, which he won. Now, why this sudden swing to Senator Rubio? His performance did not improve that dramatically, nor did Fiorina’s slip. Instead, I think that the traders began to put this debate in the context of the question we ask our focus groups after each debate: Which candidate best improved their chances of winning the nomination? Fiorina may have won some people over, but she still had to compete with Trump and Carson for the outsider vote, which remains a difficult task. But after outdoing the likes of Jeb Bush and Jon Kasich so handily, Rubio is clearly the frontrunner for the moderate, insider vote. Though he and Fiorina gave comparable performances, his impressive performance will be much more damaging to his chief competitors, and that’s why our traders, and our voters, declared him the night’s biggest winner.