Why Bernie Sanders Will Probably Win the Democratic Debate
Bernie Sanders Has More to Gain in the October 13 Debate
Bernie Sanders' Supporters are Less Likely to be Swayed by Debate Performances
If you like Bernie Sanders, you probably like him a lot. You likely feel a deep respect, appreciation, and perhaps even a sort of kinship. The independent U.S. Senator from Vermont is passionate, tough, unyielding, and knows the struggles of the middle class. He is not a flip-flopper. He represents what many of us wish we could be. His primary opponent, Hillary Clinton, represents wealth, status, and the benefits of years of schmoozing and accumulating social capital.
If they say that any press is good press, then Hillary Clinton has definitely been given a huge political advantage thus far: For better or worse, she's always in the news as a power player. Sanders, when he has been in the news, has frequently been insinuated to be a fringe candidate. The media may pick on Clinton, but they constantly reaffirm the notion that she is powerful and well-connected. Unfairly, it reinforces the stereotype that she is the "inevitable" Democratic presidential nominee.
Many voters, by contrast, do not know much about the grizzled Vermonter. While Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton is widely known from coast-to-coast, both due to her time as First Lady and her recent tenure as Secretary of State, Bernie Sanders has been little known outside of his home state until the past few years. The average American may also know little about "democratic socialism," the political model which Sanders espouses. Sadly, many people may incorrectly think democratic socialism is the same thing as Soviet-style socialism and automatically write off the esteemed Senator as a leftist loony.
But during the Democratic debate on October 13, Sanders gets his first chance at a level playing field: He will be onstage with frontrunner Clinton and will get a chance to play to the same crowd. With supporters of Clinton watching, Sanders will get to tout his policy proposals. Many view this as a big win for Sanders, for it provides him the first opportunity to make inroads with moderate and conservative Democrats, including major donors.
Voters are more likely to be swayed to leave Clinton and join Sanders than vice versa. Voters already know what Hillary Clinton represents. Even if she performs very well during the debate, she will gain relatively few new supporters, and these will be fickle at best. They will be joining "Team Hillary" only because they now view her as more electable than before...not because they now, suddenly, agree with her views.
These new Clinton supporters could be lost in mere days if a scandal strikes or Clinton makes a significant campaign gaffe or faux pas.
Supporters gained by Sanders, however, will likely be joining his team because they support his ideas and policy proposals. As a result, they will be considerably more loyal and will be unlikely to defect back to Clinton if Sanders has a verbal gaffe or hits a lull during the pre-primary doldrums. They will be linked to Sanders' campaign due to idealism and hope, not the bland glue of the bandwagon effect.
All Sanders has to do to improve his political standing is remain calm and explain the merits of his policy proposals. As a popular underdog, he has more to gain from positive exposure than by a gutsy attack on Clinton's flip-floppy record. If Sanders attacks, which he is unlikely to do, he could galvanize Clinton's supporters and draw a harmful backlash on himself.
Clinton is also unlikely to attack, knowing that criticizing the underdog would make herself look like a bully. Both leading Democratic candidates are savvy operators and campaign veterans - though a few barbs are likely, viewers should not expect direct or sustained verbal attacks or criticisms. As a result of this relative detente, Sanders will "win" the debate because he has far more to gain from being onstage with his opponent. In economics, we refer to Clinton's dilemma as the law of diminishing marginal returns.