Who Won the Democratic Debate

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Who won the Democratic debate? If you had a favorite candidate, that is who won. The fact of the matter is that as political scientist Thomas Holbrook said, “The perception of most [debate] viewers is colored by their political predisposition going into the debate…[and] the single best predictor of which candidate a viewer thought won a given debate is that viewer’s “pre-debate vote choice” (Holbrook, Do Campaigns Matter? pg. 114). To see which candidate performed the best, you need to look beyond personal preference.


To understand the Democratic debate fully, you have to understand the purpose of a primary debate. Much like presidential debates, the Democratic debate is an attempt by party candidates to inform likely voters and introduce uninformed voters to their political stances. Because of their ability to positively affect voters, debates represent an important and necessary foothold. Lesser-known candidates, like former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, former Rhode Island Senator and governor Lincoln Chafee, and former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, want to present themselves on the widely-viewed platform of a televised debate.

Only Martin O’Malley really took advantage of this opportunity during the debate. He came across as professional and thoughtful. When asked about Baltimore’s crime and arrest rates, O’Malley talked about the tragedy around Freddie Gray’s death quite respectfully and with the care you might expect from a presidential candidate. O’Malley took advantage of the opportunity to be on the national stage.

Joe Biden, the current Vice President, did not attend the debate. This is important because if Biden had chosen to run for president, he will have missed a golden opportunity to gain some notoriety. In fact, the CNN debate organizers set aside a lectern in the hope that Biden would appear. Biden is currently polling under 18% in most national polls, despite not actually having entered the race. Biden might have had enough notoriety and potential support to succeed if he did enter. His time, however, ran out.

Also important in understanding the debate is to know how other politicians feel about a particular candidate. Endorsements play a key role in gauging support for a candidate. As of today, Hillary Clinton has been endorsed by 127 members of The House of Representatives, 30 Senators, and 9 governors. In contrast, Bernie Sanders has been endorsed by just two members of Congress. Hillary Clinton, as shown in her debate performance, is organized and has a well-developed network of supporters. In the debate, Hillary Clinton showed herself to be professional and the most presidential in contrast to Bernie Sander’s less commanding answers and O’Malley’s, Chaffee’s, and Webb’s attempts to garner attention for their little-known campaigns.

The most interesting exchange in the debate was raised by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, the chief mediator of the debate, to Bernie Sanders. Mr. Cooper asked Senator Sanders about how widely accepted a Democratic Socialist would be by the voting public. According to a recent Gallup poll, which was referenced in the debate, American adults would be much more willing to vote for a presidential candidate who is gay or lesbian (74%), Evangelical Christian (73%), Muslim (60%), or an Atheist (58%) than a Socialist (47%) like Bernie Sanders. In other words, 53% of respondents are not willing to vote for a Socialist for President. Senator Sanders did not adequately address this concern during the debate. Instead, he quickly pivoted into his thoughts on income inequality, which he brought up frequently during his allotted time. A democratic socialist believes that wealthy corporations should be controlled strongly by the government, education should be universally accessible, and a European-modeled health care system should be installed. The reason that most of American adults would not vote for a socialist candidate is that many wrongly associate socialism with communism, there are no examples of democratic socialism to look to, and by becoming more like socialist European countries there would be a loss of american individualism. Because of this apparent lack of support for a socialist candidate, it is unlikely that Bernie Sanders will win the Democratic nomination, much less achieve the presidency.

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Who Won the Democratic Debate