It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking for a “game change” moment at these debates. Saturday night’s debate, though, likely didn’t produce one.
There were no amazing one-line put downs. None of the candidates made an egregious statement likely to offend a big group of voters. No one made some misstatement of fact that was so bad as to expose them as not knowing what they were talking about.
You can see that in our debate grades, where the FiveThirtyEight staff grades the candidates on how much each improved (or hurt) their chances of winning the nomination.
|CANDIDATE||AVERAGE GRADE||HIGH GRADE||LOW GRADE|
The FiveThirtyEight team, on average, gave Hillary Clinton a B+, slightly ahead of both Bernie Sanders’ B and Martin O’Malley’s C.
That’s not a tremendous debate “win” for Clinton, but she doesn’t need to win these debates by a wide margin. She continues to lead the race in Iowa — though that lead is not entirely safe — and she continues to hold a massive advantage with the Democratic establishment and non-white voters. Clinton’s just looking to run out the clock; the status quo is good for her, and the third Democratic debate is unlikely to change the status quo.
Anyway, if you’re reading this the day-after, and you didn’t watch the debate, start at the bottom to see what happened chronologically. Otherwise, here were a few highlights:
- Clinton didn’t really go after Sanders for the data breach controversy;
- Donald Trump was the only Republican name-checked by the Democratic candidates;
- We considered O’Malley’s suitability as a vice-presidential pick;
- Nate asked whether the Democrats’ weekend debate schedule is worse for Clinton;
- O’Malley joined a long list of governors who claim undue credit for balancing their state’s budget.
I’m not a pollster or a statistician. But I do understand some of the hidden math of American life. We each have identities-as-stated. Then there’s how we express them in polls and public conversations — and what we say to ourselves. For example, many women who are religious conservatives have a different opinion of, and attachment to, issues of reproductive health than men in similar religions. To me, this is shaping up to be a secret(ive) election, meaning I suspect the Democrats will benefit from some people who cross lines because they disagree with the GOP candidates who are going far-right on immigration and reproductive issues; but also some (smaller) measure of socially conservative Dem-leaning folks may reject candidate positions on issues like policing and gun regulation.
I think the fact that the Democrats aren’t tearing each other apart is good news for Democrats. I think the longer the Republican race goes on with Donald Trump leading, the further right the Republicans will be on the issues, and that is bad for the eventual GOP nominee. I still think the Republicans are slightly favored in the general because I don’t think Trump will be the nominee. Why do I think that? Obama’s approval rating is still only about 45 percent, and Republicans are leading on the generic ballot.
So, suffice it to say Democrats have had a considerably more congenial nomination process than Republicans so far. How much does this matter for the general election? Based on what you know now, what chance would you give the Democratic nominee of winning the general election?
The debate is over, but we’re going to have one more wrap-up post from Harry Enten with our customary debate grades. So don’t close this tab just yet.
Amazingly, neither climate change nor immigration came up much tonight. That’s surprising given that 73 percent of Democrats believe that climate change is a major threat facing the United States and voters overall feel that immigration is the fourth-most important problem facing the United States, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll.
My debate haiku:
The third Dem debate
Was feisty, but not unkind
Favorite moment: Sanders saying how much fun he was having. I think he actually was, Friday data breach aside. I think the back-and-forth on intervention in Syria, where the candidates got into specifics on what an increased U.S. presence there might look like, was pretty important. But I agree that there’s not much of a lasting effect.
Lasting effects: not many. Clinton demonstrated again that she’s very good at this. Sanders had maybe his sharpest performance among the debates so far, but with this debate taking place on a Saturday night before Christmas and him talking mostly from his playbook, he probably isn’t going to find many new converts.
My favorite moment was O’Malley acting like Chris Christie on the question of the DNC voter database. The most important moment was Sanders and Clinton basically putting the issue to an end. There will be no lasting effect in my mind.
Alright, we’re nearing the end of this debate. Favorite moments? Most important moments? Any lasting effects?
Crucial mother-in-law vote now going to O’Malley!
This question on gender roles and presidential spouses puts Clinton in quite a sticky spot — you might recall that she was roundly pilloried some 20 years ago for saying she wasn’t the kind of person who was going to bake cookies.
As this debate heads towards its finale, I’m not sure there was any sort of “game change.” Still, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a swing in the polls to either Clinton or Sanders in New Hampshire (where this debate is being held). Why? Both of them are really popular among Democrats. According to a Franklin Pierce University poll out this week, Sanders has an 85 percent favorable rating. Clinton has an 83 percent favorable rating.
This is a very different discussion about Libya than what Clinton will face in the general election. It’s going to be all Benghazi all the time. But this debate is providing the Democrats an opportunity to hold a more philosophical conversation about regime change.
Micah, to circle back to your question about Baltimore and O’Malley: I’m a Baltimore native — a proud Baltimore native. I think the city gets tarred with a brush of failure when, frankly, I dare anyone to do a quick turnaround on a city which dropped from a population of 1 million in 1950 to 600,000 now, with all of the vacant housing; and which is a stop on the global drug pipeline into the East Coast via its ports. I’m not judging whether O’Malley could have done more. And frankly, I believe Baltimore will be fine in the long run. It’s one of the last places for affordable (and often historically beautiful) real estate in the East Coast megalopolis. All of that said: O’Malley is not scoring any points for being from Baltimore.
Q: Do you think millennials will turn out to vote in this election like they did for Obama? — Rhonda Roots Barlow
A: Rhonda, according to the Current Population Survey, the turnout rate by 18- to 24-year-olds was not significantly higher in 2008 than it was in 2004. And it was actually lower in 2012 than in 2004. My bet is that there isn’t a massive drop-off in turnout among millennials, if the election is close. I’d add that millennials will even see higher turnout in 2016 because more of them will be older, and voter turnout tends to go up with age.
Sanders talked about re-framing drugs, in the context of race and policing, and mentioned marijuana. But a more apt comparison might be the rise of harm-reduction policy when it comes to heroin and opiates, which are affecting white Americans mainly; but there has been a hard sell to treat crack cocaine or other drugs associated with black Americans from a public health perspective.
“Addiction is a disease, not a criminal activity,” Sanders said, but how the government chooses to treat and incarcerate is very different based on different drugs.
I’m sure it hasn’t helped O’Malley. But his fundamental problem is that Hillary Clinton is popular across almost every major constituency within the Democratic party — and for the few in which she isn’t, Bernie Sanders is a better fit than O’Malley is.
I think he was going nowhere regardless, but it sure as heck hasn’t helped. That record probably took away any shot of him making any movement in this race. One thing I will say is that O’Malley has tried to become a progressive alternative to Clinton, and his criminal justice record has made that nearly impossible.
Do you all buy the argument that one reason O’Malley’s campaign has never seen more of a lift is his record on criminal justice and policing as Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor?
I think the Black Lives Matters movement is one thing that separates what’s being talked about in the Democratic race vs. the Republican one. Criminal justice reform and policing are obviously hot topics in the country right now and it’s going to be interesting to see how they’ll be talked about in the general election.
Though, having said that, someone like Rand Paul has been talking about criminal justice reform for a while, as a problem for the economy.