Insights from Our Focus Group

Our focus group declared Ted Cruz the winner of the January 14 Republican Debate. We asked members of our focus group for insights into their decision making process. Here’s a selection of their responses:

Ted wiped the floor with Trump every chance he got. He did it graciously and humorously. He also clearly explained his positions.

Cruz did not shy away from addressing questions directed at him by opponents and was clearly looking to build on his momentum in the polls.

Trump was better and friendlier than in previous debates and his New York answer was probably the most memorable soundbite in this debate. Plus, no one really laid a glove on him.

Trump did well. He better articulated his positions. And scored a few points against Jeb and Rubio.

Rubio did well pretty much every time he opened his mouth.

Marco Rubio appeared much more poised and confident than any of the other candidates in his responses tonight.

Rubio came across as hyper and intense. It was a little too much.

I think Bush’s direct attacks on Trump will help give him support among the anyone but Trump coalition.

Christie appeared to be above the fray and spoke directly on issues.

Thanks again to our focus group for their help!


Ted Cruz Wins Jan. 14 Republican Debate

Ted Cruz is the winner of the January 14 Republican Debate, as he was deemed by our focus group as the candidate to have “best improved his chance of winning the Republican nomination”.

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

Ted Cruz wins Jan 14 Debate

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: 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.

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.