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.

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Who Won The Democratic Debate of 17 January 2016?

I deny the hypothesis.

By Desertphile (not verified) on 18 Jan 2016 #permalink

Your point about being careful what you say in a debate is cautionary. Hillary v Barack...the birther issue was highlighted during an exchange. It didn't cost the election but it still continues. The good news: it will likely put the kibosh on one Raphael Cruz Jr.

By BobFromLI (not verified) on 18 Jan 2016 #permalink

I don't think there was a clear winner among the three. Martin O'Malley did better, I thought, than last time. But IMO Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders came out about neck-and-neck.

However, while I haven't watched any of the Republican debates, I think the Democratic Party has been the clear winner over the GOP because they have been presenting substantive and substantially civil debates, as opposed to cascades of slogans and falsehoods.

By Christopher Winter (not verified) on 18 Jan 2016 #permalink

I agree that extreme partisans of either Bernie or Hillary are doing a disservice to their party.

By Christopher Winter (not verified) on 18 Jan 2016 #permalink

"the birther issue ...continues"

Only among the foolish.

I stayed up to watch the debate. Some of the questioning was moronic. The media virtually ignored Sanders until Larry David did his spot on SNL parody, but now they seem to be noticing his poll numbers.
Sanders began to get bogged down early on one question, but you could almost see the wheels turn, and he pivoted to invoking the bigger picture of a government bought by campaign money. After that he never failed to emphasize that his brand is revolution. Hillary was steadfastly trying to be the experienced adult in the room. O'Malley handled a question about whether his harsh policies led to the death of Freddie Gray by claiming that tough policies were necessary when he took office because so many people were getting killed every day. I found the 'who is more antigun?' debate disingenuous. O'Malley and Clinton clamped down on guns in major urban areas where white people are nervous about armed black people. Sanders is in a largely rural, largely white state where 'shall issue' doesn't bother anyone.
I do have boomer-age friends who are angry at Hillary. On facebook, I have regularly seen accusations that Debbie Wasserman-Schulz was trying to fix the primary for Clinton. Then there was the firewall kerfluffle. And Chelsea.

By The Donal (not verified) on 19 Jan 2016 #permalink

I submitted two comments yesterday (Monday) and both are still awaiting moderation for some reason.

By See Noevo (not verified) on 19 Jan 2016 #permalink

The problem, as I see it, Greg, is you seem to think Hillary actually means anything she says. That's a very risky position.

By Douglas C Alder (not verified) on 19 Jan 2016 #permalink

What? Are you worried she's a "sleeper agent" for the Kochroaches?

America is over a barrel this year: It's either:

A. Vote a Democrat --any Democrat-- into office,
or
B. Begin the morbid descent into political, social, and economic apotosis on a national scale.

How the hell did we ever get into this vulnerable state?

Oh wait... How do spell gerrymandering?

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 19 Jan 2016 #permalink

Brainstorms: What? Are you worried she’s a “sleeper agent” for the Kochroaches?

America is over a barrel this year: It’s either:

A. Vote a Democrat —any Democrat– into office,
or
B. Begin the morbid descent into political, social, and economic apotosis on a national scale.

How the hell did we ever get into this vulnerable state?

Oh wait… How do spell gerrymandering?

The best solution is to ban political parties. The USA Constitution mandates that USA citizens have the right to assemble, so the Constitution would have to be amended to ban political parties.

By Desertphile (not verified) on 20 Jan 2016 #permalink

In reply to by Brainstorms (not verified)

That's what the right has been doing. They use the tactics of gerrymandering, voter ID laws, poll taxes, disinformation campaigns, etc. All in order to remove political parties (other than their own).

With the competition removed, you've effectively removed political parties. What is left is the be-all, end-all facsist government that will tell you what to think and what to do. (Don't worry; once sufficiently powerful, they'll amend the Constitution so that it says whatever they need it to say...)

Oh, and "there's no going back". It took a world war the last time that type of party took over a nation, and that nation was literally reduced to rubble with a destroyed economy to go with, in order to excise the "problem".

I really hope that America turns away from that path... But those who are ignorant of history are bound to... ::sigh::

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 20 Jan 2016 #permalink

Me: "I deny the hypothesis."

Greg Laden: "Which hypothesis?"

I deny the hypothesis that political debates are "won" or "lost." I deny there is a valid metric for "win" and "lose." I also deny the hypothesis that these "debates" have been debates."

By Desertphile (not verified) on 20 Jan 2016 #permalink

I agree that these "debates" aren't really debates, but that term is easier to use than, "The TV shows where the political candidates stand, in a line, on a stage, and answer dumb questions from mainstream media pundits during election years". Whew. I also don't watch debates, but I will go on-line the next day and see what people are saying and writing. That's what I'm really interested in.... what other people are saying about said debates. On caucus night, I will be standing in the group that supports Bernie. I've sent him money on a couple of different occasions. I've got a "Bernie" cap. I've read the Banking Act of 1933. I spent 2 years studying fiscal and monetary policy/operations of sovereign countries (after I retired). Hillary is a moderate Republican but I will vote for her in the general election if I must. I'm still waiting for my old friend, FDR.