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.

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.

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

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:

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.

Debate Preview: Bernie Dominating Market, But Can He Go The Distance?

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:

Tonight’s Democratic debate in Des Moines comes right as the Democratic field reaches a crossroads: With Hillary Clinton leading by at least 20 points nationally and in every early state besides New Hampshire, this debate could likely mark the beginning of the end for Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, who need to cut into that lead soon to have a chance at winning. With such high stakes for this debate, it’s important to understand the narratives for each of the candidates before the debate starts tonight. Below are the three stories you should be aware of to make sure you win your league tonight:

Sanders Continues Impressive Streak

About three days before the first Democratic debate last month, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders began to pull away in the Ballotcraft market, opening up a double digit lead over Hillary Clinton that wouldn’t become undone. He carried that momentum through debate night, staying miles ahead of the competition and winning the final vote by a landslide. After such a convincing victory, it would be easy to peg Sanders as the frontrunner from this point forward for future debates. And the market seems to have done that, giving him a 62% chance of winning the debate. But could Bernie’s past success actually hinder him tonight?

Since the last debate, Sander’s deficit in the national polls has remained roughly unchanged at 23 or 24 percent. This may influence how our focus group thinks when picking a winner: Even if Sanders is as good as he was in the last debate, will it really improve his chances of being President? I don’t expect this to matter much during trading, but it might deter me from putting all of my eggs in the Bernie basket when the market closes. I still think barring some amazing Clinton performance or complete collapse by Sanders his stock will rise during the night, but consider diversifying your portfolio come the end of the night.

Clinton An Underdog, But Media Coverage May Shape Results

After Vice President Biden declared he was not seeking the Democratic nomination, the path to victory began to seem rather clear for former Secretary of State Clinton. And so these debates, primary votes, and campaign stops become almost perfunctory, as Hillary and her staff realized that very little could happen to stop them from winning the nomination. Sanders has put up a good fight, but as of yet has failed to close the gap nationally to make it a competitive race. Essentially, the only way Hillary will lose is if Sanders’ grassroots movement spreads outside of the young, liberal Democrats who comprise his base.

There are a few ways that could happen: A big win for Bernie in an early state like New Hampshire, a new scandal for the Clinton camp, or a debate in which Sanders greatly outperforms Clinton. Many on our site and across the web thought that last month’s debate was an example of the latter, but the media and then later the polls showed that that was not the case. They declared Clinton the winner, even though many found it hard to imagine Bernie and O’Malley improving by any substantial amount. So the question now becomes whether this media coverage will keep our focus group voters from choosing anyone other than Clinton as tonight’s victor. They might not sway every member, but expect this to lead to a closer vote than last time.

O’Malley Far Behind The Pack, Poised To Repeat Climb

The biggest surprise (for me, at least) in October’s Democratic debate was the incredible performance of former-Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who not only delivered a fantastic defense of liberalism, but also made a strong case for himself as a candidate. That strong performance showed up in the focus group vote as they awarded him second place, though he was distantly behind Sanders. Again, the greatest enemy for O’Malley is the status quo, which was upheld after the debate despite his great performance. There’s not much more O’Malley can do to move up in the polls other than go after the leaders, but I think his ambitions for higher office in one of their administrations will prevent him from really letting loose. I’d put some credits into his stock now, since it will probably rise as he has another good night behind the podium, but sell off before the night is over.

Post-Debate Analysis: Sanders Wins Big Despite Close Finish

bernie debate

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:

This is part one of our three-part series analyzing Ballotcraft’s market data during the first Democratic Presidential Debate, covering the trends that dominated and how a savvy investor could use them in the future.

The biggest winner Tuesday night was without a doubt Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who won our undecided voter focus group with a walloping two-thirds majority. However, the night was not entirely smooth sailing for the self-described Democratic Socialist. Though he owned at least a share of the lead for the entire debate, his price was dropping from the start, starting at 53.4 and ending at 40.9. Though his decline wasn’t as rapid as Kasich and Carson’s were during the last Republican debate (and unlike those two Sanders did end the night in the lead and won the final vote), this still showed a concerning amount of weakness for someone who was trading at or above 60 percent for much of the day of the debate.

10/13 Democrat Debate Prices

Not surprisingly, Sanders’ most vulnerable moment was during the prolonged discussion of gun control, the rare issue on which Sanders takes a more conservative stance than his competitors. During this discussion and for a short while after, Bernie’s lead began to melt away, his price dropping 7.6 points over a span of 20 minutes, which accounted for over half of his total price change over the night. Not helping matters for the senator was the fact that the gun question was followed very closely by a commercial break, giving the market plenty of time to mull over his weaker answers. However, Bernie came out of the gates strong after the break, delivering the most memorable line of the debate (I too am tired of hearing about Hillary’s damn emails) and reestablishing some stability for his price, which would only drop another two points during the remaining hour and forty minutes of the debate.

One bright note for Sanders on the market was that his price seemed tied only to his performance, cementing his status as frontrunner in the eyes of our traders. When Martin O’Malley made his climb during the back half of the debate, steadily rising 20 points in an hour, Sanders barely felt it, falling only 2.6 points during the same period. Instead, Hillary Clinton took the brunt of the damage, dropping 13.2 points. This means the market viewed Clinton and O’Malley as being more in conflict with each other (to be the mainstream alternative to Sanders) than as direct competitors to Sanders himself. Likewise, as Sanders price fell, the lost points were pretty equally redistributed among his rivals, reaffirming this idea of “Bernie versus the field”.

Putting all of this together, we see a pretty rosy picture for Sanders supporters and buyers during upcoming debates. Sanders’ message of a new liberal revolution is as appealing to hear over the airwaves as it is in person at his massive rallies, which is why he can largely avoid interaction with his fellow candidates and decide his own destiny. The only downside of this for buyers is that it may drastically over- or undervalue his actual chance of winning, as it did this week, since he isn’t really being compared to the other debaters, just to our collective expectations of him. Still, barring a transcendent performance from O’Malley or Clinton, I’d say Sanders is the odds on favorite to win next month in Des Moines, so go join a new market and buy big now.