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: www.ballotcraft.com.
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.