Tag Archives: Democratic Debate

Who won last night’s Democratic Primary debate in New Hampshire?

I watched the debate pretty closely, and in my opinion, both candidates did pretty well and it was mostly an even contest. (Note: I am not committed to one or the other candidate, I happen to like them both.)

Sanders did very well in getting his message across, but he demonstrated weakness in foreign policy.

Clinton did a good job at addressing the alleged Wall Street ties and addressing the email issue.

But there is another way to answer the question. How much did each candidate strengthen their own support, and how much did each candidate do to convince undecided individuals to prefer them, especially those individuals in New Hampshire?

One way to asses that is to see what happens next Tuesday. As previously discussed, Sanders is expected to win the New Hampshire Primary by about 20%. If, in the end, he falls short of this, then perhaps Clinton did a better job of convincing undecideds to pick her. If Clinton does worse than 20% down, then perhaps Sanders did a better job of convincing undecideds to pick her.

Meanwhile, we have the online polls. Across a range of polls, Clinton gets number in the 10% – 20% range, and Sanders gets numbers in the 80-something% range. It has been suggested that Sanders supporters are better at gaming the on line polls than Clinton supporters. With numbers like this (8:2) that is almost certainly what is going on. Or, at least, it is a reasonable hypothesis. It is also possible that Republicans are clicking on Sanders because of the widespread belief among anti-Democrats that Sanders is the candidate the GOP prefers to run agains, even though the evidence for that is rather weak. In any event, an 8:2 (or, really, closer to 8.5-1.5) ratio does not accurately reflect the Democratic voter’s position. It is poll gaming of one kind or another. Does poll gaming indicate fishiness among Sanders supporters, with BerniBrah’s acting in their established somewhat obnoxious pattern? Or does it indicate a good GOP strategy? Or does it indicate that the Sanders campaign is doing something right? I suspect this is a question that will be addressable at a later time, not now.

And, to be clear, the political experts are generally in agreement that the debate was fairly even and Clinton addressed some concerns very well.

So putting this together, a few things things seem to emerge. First, realistically, there are two excellent campaigners running in this primary, each very able to handle themselves. Sanders has not done his homework on the foreign policy issues, as he really should have done by now. (One of his answers was almost GOP-esque, when he was asked about one country but spent a couple of minutes not addressing that country at all, and instead talked about a different country.) Having said that, I suspect that Sanders and Clinton supporters are different. Sanders is an insurgent candidate, and his campaign is following, in part, an unconventional path to the nomination. Last time that happened, the unconventional path worked. Sanders supporters hope this will happen again. But usually it doesn’t.

Someone who has been following the race very closely (full disclosure, a Sanders volunteer) recently told me she felt it was “easier to switch from being a Clinton supporter to a Sanders supporter than the other way around.” In a way this may be the definition of a (successful) insurgent campaign. The reason, she said, is because one of the main reasons to pick Clinton over Sanders is electability, and as Sanders demonstrates that this is not a issue, things change. We start out with Sanders the Socialist vs. Hillary the Hated. The Hillary the Hated persona is not going to change because the GOP has ingrained that as part of American political culture. But the Sanders the Socialist trope cold tear off the mask and become Sanders the Insurgent.

We’ll see.

Who Won The Democratic Debate of 17 January 2016?

I have studiously avoided picking a Democratic candidate to support. I will not have to decide until Super Tuesday, when Minnesotans caucus to support one or another candidate. I like Hillary Clinton for a number of reasons, including the simple fact that she has considerable experience in the Executive branch, and is a person who can get things done. If I got to pick the president (skipping the election process entirely), I’d probably pick Sanders because I’m all in on the revolution in American policy. Both candidates are actually in close agreement on most of the key issues. Neither came to the game with a strong climate change policy, and that is a strong negative for both of them, but they have gotten on board at least rhetorically. Not good enough, but the best we have. Both are against involving the US in a Middle Eastern quagmire. Both seem to be in favor of election reform, but Bernie is right that he’s the one acting like it already happened while Clinton is not. Yet, we can’t hold that against Hillary any more than we held it against President Obama when he won two elections. The electability argument may have favored Clinton at one point during the current primary race, but that same argument has been effectively made against her, and Sanders’ electability quotient seems to be rising.

Regardless, I strongly oppose the internecine arguing and sniping among supporters of both candidates. I sense that much of the really nasty anti-Clinton/Sanders yammering comes from people who are fairly new to the process and have yet to be disappointed by the outcome of such efforts that tend to harm one’s own chances of being represented in the White House.

Notice how much sniping there was during the debate among the actual candidates. Some, but not much. Also, they pointed out agreements on a number of occasions. All three candidates (and no, I’ve not forgotten O’Malley) made strong points against the Republicans, especially Donald Trump, but there were not enough such jabs.

[Note: Some of the sniping in brought to you by your friendly opposition party. See this.]

Still, I hope that both Clinton and Sanders supporters take a page out of the play books of their own candidates and cut back on the damaging attacks. One of those two candidates is going to get the Democratic nomination, and regardless of which one goes against the Republican, it is essential that individual wins. Supporters of the candidate that looses have to put their big kid pants on, suck it up, and get into the fight full steam ahead to assure that this happens.

I think of it as a recreational boxing match between marines in combat. Have a fair fight, try to win, but after the fight is over, the guy you knocked out is going to have to be in a condition to save your life later. If you kill your opponent, you’ve killed an important ally. This is why I think the most severe intra-party attacks are probably by noobs and youngies. They’ve not seen the loser of a primary jump into the general election context and help their former opponent win. That does, in fact, happen. Notice that Bill Clinton helped Barack Obama win, and Hillary Clinton served in the top cabinet post in President Obama’s administration.

OK, so that’s what I needed to get off my chest. Now, who won the debate?

I scored the candidates using a very subjective informal system during the entire debate. My scoring was based not on how much I personally agreed or disagreed with the candidate’s position. Again, the candidates are actually very close on most positions anyway. Rather, I scored the candidates on how they presented their case. Even there, I did not score on how much their approach resonated with my thinking, but with how I felt their rhetorical approach met the needs of a candidate talking to the American people.

I was looking at the candidates debating like a campaign advisor might look at their candidate, to refine the rhetorical and tactical approach.

Let me give you an example. I took points off Sanders’ discussion of “Medicare for All” in which he said that the middle class would have to pay taxes to get that benefit. He made the point that the overall output of the average middle class family would go down because the increase in taxes would be less than the current cost of expensive medical insurance, mainly by cutting out the insurance companies. I agree with that, but he lost points because he needed to put it another way. Overtly and even proudly claiming a tax increase, no matter how sensible, is not a good campaign strategy. He loses points not for being honest, but for having a policy that guarantees that enough voters can be turned against him on that one issue to throw a close election.

This is not unimportant. There are better ways he could have made the same case. After all, Medicare is not paid for with income tax. Future expanded Medicare does not need to be either. Indeed, as a policy, sinking health care cost into general income tax is a bad idea, possibly, because of Congress. Congress is constitutionally empowered to do whatever they want with that money. A strong Republican Congress during a serious budget crisis could eliminate universal health care way too easily under those conditions. So, he lost a couple of points for not referring to a modest payroll contribution to replace overinflated premiums.

I did the scoring on my facebook page, here. Feel free to jump in and complain!

The outcome of the scoring was that Clinton and Sanders got almost the same score, not different enough to matter. O’Malley got a lower score simply because he talked less, and I did not adjust for that (though I recorded the data in a way that would allow that adjustment).

Meanwhile, what did people think? The only real indicator of the outcome of this debate will be the official scientifically conducted polls that happen over the next few days. I’ve not seen any such polls yet. It takes a few days to do a poll, so a poll dated January 18th or 19th will not necessarily reflect the debate’s influence. I’ve argued in the past that online polls are actually useful, contrary to popular presumption, because of the way things work these days on the Internet. Online polls have tracked very closely with scientifically conducted polls for the Republicans. This may be true as well with the Democrats. Hard to say.

Online polls show a HUGE surge for Bernie Sanders with this debate, with Sanders garnering results in the 80% range in many polls. This is not a small thing. This may be in part because Sanders supporters are crazy poll clickers and will go out of their way to create a buzz (there is material evidence for this). But Clinton supporters should also be clickity clicking, so this effect can account for only a portion of that difference between the candidates.

It may well turn out that this debate is part of the transition I documented and described here, which is parallel to a transition that happened in the Clinton-Obama race.

If Sanders did in fact win this debate by such a large margin, then this will have to be reflected in the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primary. Sanders will have to win the Iowa Caucus by a decisive amount (close to 10 points?) and he will have to win New Hampshire by a landslide (he is effective “favorite son” there), in order for us to say that he won this debate at the level indicated by online polls.

Then, we are faced with the rest of the primary process. The electability issue will not go away for Sanders unless he beats or matches Clinton in the South, or at least, does fairly well. If Clinton creams Sanders in South Carolina, that is bad news for Sanders. Some Sanders supporters have indicated that Sanders won’t win the South anyway, and that may be true, but if he totally loses every southern state including Florida and Texas in the General, than we may end up President Trump-Cruz, and you can kiss the Supreme Court and doing anything about climate change good buy for many decades.

The fact that Sanders seemed to do well in this particular debate, held by the Congressional Black Caucus, might be important here. Clinton has the advantage with “minority” voters, for her family-related policy, her long term links to relevant issues, and the fact that she was married to the first Black president. Sanders is an old white Jewish guy from an all white state. African American vs. Jewish American relations are cold, on average. But Sanders kicked a lot of that to the curb with his social justice stands during this debate, and in general during his campaign. African Americans traditionally have had important friends in New England liberals, and in Jewish American intellectuals and their famous “New York Ideals” (sensu Cruz). The recent move to disassociate traditional allies by #BlackLivesMatters activists may or may not permeate to southern Democratic Party voters.

Personally, I wish Minnesota was not voting on Super Tuesday along with Georgia, Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee, and Virginia. I’d rather have a bit more time with the Fish Finder before I have to cut bait, if you get my drift.