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: Market Can’t Make Up Its Mind About Clinton


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

Though countless media outlets were quick to name the former Secretary of State the winner of the first Democratic debate, our traders were less convinced. Clinton had been struggling for days leading up to the debate, having fallen from equal standing with Sanders a week ago to less than half of his price on the morning of the debate. And despite a strong start in the debate, bolstered by a strong foreign policy segment and Sanders’ weak response on gun control. But once we moved on to the topics of college affordability, social security, and Wall Street reform, Clinton’s price began to plummet. This also corresponded with the rise of Martin O’Malley, indicating that our traders thought he was a better mainstream Democrat than her.

After the sudden drop, Clinton spent the remaining hour of the debate languishing in the low twenties, a distant third to the two main contenders. And yet, despite her low price, she tied with Martin O’Malley in our focus group’s final vote. This says two things to me: First, our focus groups view the race the same way that the major media outlets and most Americans do. That is to say that it will be a matter of Hillary vs Bernie until proven otherwise. If Martin O’Malley shoots up in the polls because of the debate, then maybe this will be challenged, but considering how reticent the media was to abandon the Hillary storylines I highly doubt it.

On a performance level, I actually think Hillary did much better than her final price indicated. She played the crowd really well, addressed all of the concerns dogging her campaign, and came out as the liberal candidate the new base of the party needed to see. No one is going to challenge Sanders so long as he’s spreading the most exciting message of the Democrats. But in case his shtick wears off, I think Hillary will continue to be an overlooked, underpriced purchase to swoop in and win the debate.

Post-Debate Analysis: O’Malley’s Speeches Dazzle Market, But Not Voters

Martin O'Malley

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

Interesting fact from Tuesday’s debate: Even though Bernie Sanders won the debate, if you had to put all of your credits in one candidate at the start of the night he would have only been the second best option. Since you’re a smart person and probably saw the title of this article, it shouldn’t be hard for you to guess that former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley was the only candidate to beat Bernie in this regard. An 8:00 purchase of Sanders’ stock at 56.3 would end up being worth 100 credits, netting you a 78 percent profit. Whereas a similarly timed purchase of O’Malley’s shares, priced at 11.4, sold as Anderson Cooper was signing off, would end up being worth 37.5 credits, for a profit of 229 percent, far more than any Sanders investor could have possibly earned.

So why did the former mayor of Baltimore outperform his expectations by such a wide margin? While you may be trying to recall a game-changing moment, like his staunch opposition to the NRA or Sorkin-esque closing statements arguing the merits of liberalism, the answer is actually much simpler than that: Martin O’Malley is just a good debater. His viewpoints, while pretty standard for your run-of-the-mill Democrat, were articulated rather well and even his weakest answers, on the unrest stemming from police relations in his hometown, were given with enough conviction and good intentions to keep his price from dipping more than three points. And thankfully for O’Malley, that question was both early on in the debate, buried in the seemingly never-ending section before the first commercial break, and short, driving the discussion for less than three minutes.

With that out of the way, O’Malley was able to put on a remarkably strong performance for the last 90 minutes of the two and a half hour debate, with his price on a near constant rise the entire time. He quickly replaced Hillary as the consensus number two candidate on the site and was the only candidate to ever the share the lead with Sanders, which he did for 90 seconds towards the very end of the debate. He played up his gubernatorial experience when talking about gun control, felt comfortable criticizing or complimenting his fellow candidates, and had some terrific lines along the way. But more than anything he was consistent, and it was this quality that led his slow but sustained rise to the top.

There are a couple things keeping this from being a full-blown success for O’Malley, though. First, he didn’t fair very well in the final focus group vote, tying with Clinton well behind Sanders. Now that he has a good performance and some name recognition behind him, it will be even less likely that he wins our vote, which is based on which candidate “most improved their chances”. Secondly, we can look back at the Republican debates to find a candidate who had a similar first performance, and unfortunately things did not turn out well for that candidate. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul had a similarly steady rise in the first Republican debate, which very closely mirrors O’Malley’s.

O'Malley Paul Chart

Both candidates experienced similar delays between the start of the debate and their eventual rise, both had a solid hour of moving up the ranks (Paul’s was a bit choppier because of how many other candidates were affecting his price), and both ended a close second in the market and tied for a distant second in the vote. Unfortunately, Paul’s good performance didn’t translate well to his poll numbers, nor did it lead him to repeat success in the following debate. O’Malley has less rivals to compete against for attention, but if Paul is any indicator it won’t be easy for him to carry this momentum over. See how he fares in the month between now and Des Moines, but don’t let one debate that exceeded expectations trick you into betting the farm on O’Malley.