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.
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.
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.