Democratic Debate Projections: Finding the Best Values For FanDuel’s Contest

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Scott Olson/Getty Images. Pictured: Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden

This was supposed to be Selection Sunday. I was supposed to be preparing my NCAA Tournament simulations and begin writing my mega bracket breakdown.

Let this be a reminder that we should never take anything for granted.

With the Covid-19 pandemic making landfall in America, we’ll each have to do our part to get through this next stretch. And for a lot of us, it’s going to be even tougher without sports to distract us.

That’s why when FanDuel posted a contest for tonight’s Democratic debate, it ignited the very core of my being. Sure, if March Madness, the XFL and PGA Tour were all happening today, there would be a 0% chance this contest was even offered or that I would have the time (or need) to make projections for it. But that’s when I realized we need to find hope doing things we love, and as a community, we may discover quirky unexpected things to help us through this incredibly tough road we’re about to go down.

So let’s have some fun with tonight’s debate. I’ll start by walking you through my projections for FanDuel’s contest and how I came up with them.

Democratic Debate Projections

Coming up with these debate projections was mostly a subjective process. I looked at data from previous debates to see how often each candidate spoke and how often certain words were used, and I am at least aware enough of the political landscape and world events to know which topics will be addressed.

I always try to remain neutral when making projections — I don’t have favorite teams or players, so I’m always projecting a sport like the NFL with no bias whatsoever. So while there are strong opinions on all sides for something like a political debate, know that I’m approaching this as cold-blooded as possible.

Let’s get started!

Here’s a quick snapshot of my projections, but I’ll explain how I arrived at each below.

Bernie Says Coronavirus

Coronavirus is going to be the main topic of tonight’s debate. Right now, I am projecting that Bernie will speak for 49.5 minutes and Biden for 45.5 — we have enough data from previous debates to know that Sanders tends to speak longer while Biden is more willing to cut himself off and stop talking.

Bernie will absolutely say more words tonight, which raises his floor and ceiling for nearly every category.

FanDuel has clarified that “Covid” and “Coronavirus” will both count. I’m projecting that roughly half the debate will be around this topic, therefore I would assume we’ll hear each candidate discuss it for about 25 minutes each.

Biden and Sanders both gave speeches on the virus this week and I watched three-minute clips of each. Bernie mentioned the virus many times, but only said the exact word twice. If you extrapolate that rate over 25 minutes, it would equal about 16.5 direct references. I’m guessing his debate prep team will have him use the word ‘crisis’ or ‘emergency’ often when referencing it — there are reasons they would prep a candidate to not keep using the direct word ‘coronavirus’ over and over again as we’ll know what they are discussing.

I’m setting Bernie’s line at 13.5.

Projection: 13.5


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Biden Says Coronavirus

Biden said ‘coronavirus’ only once in the three-minute clip I watched of his speech. That puts him around a 8.5 count stretched over 25 minutes. He had a wider range of synonyms to reference it such as “pandemic,” “virus” or “outbreak.”

Both candidates may be overpriced for this word and it feels like a trap. My main takeaway: They’ll discuss the virus at length tonight, but I think they’ll make fewer direct references to its name and use synonyms instead.

Projection: 11.5

Bernie Says Trump

Bernie is a longshot to win the nomination after Biden cleaned up on Super Tuesday and “Super Two-sday.” My theory is that Sanders’ strategy tonight will be to make this about he vs. Biden, so could avoid making direct references to Trump, if he can help it.

Projection: 9.5

Biden Says Trump

This may be the highest floor/ceiling combo in the player pool.

Biden is the clear front-runner and wants to make this as much about Trump as he can. We won’t see Biden shy away from making direct references (like we do with Covid-19) and he will use “Trump” often when referencing his potential opponent in the general.

Jonathan Newton /The Washington Post via Getty Images. Pictured: Donald Trump, Joe Biden

Remember: Biden wants the Democratic party to start looking ahead to the general election and will see tonight as an opportunity to not attack Bernie, but Trump.

Projection: 15.5

Either Says Stock Market

One of the fallouts of the pandemic has been a wild week for the stock market.

I can see Biden wanting to reference it a few times given his experience dealing with the 2008 crash as he began his eight-year stint as Barack Obama’s Vice President. But like “coronavirus,” I doubt either candidate will directly reference “stock market” that often, opting for related terms such as “DOW” and “401K” instead.

Projection: 4.5

Either Says Medicare

Another high floor/ceiling pick here.

Coronavirus and health care will be the main topics tonight, and the word “Medicare” will likely be used when the candidates discusses either topic. Bernie will use the word frequently as he’ll view now as the ideal time to pitch “Medicare for All,” while Biden will use the word whenever he’s responding to Bernie.

I’m anticipating both candidates to use the term “heath care” often, which will eat into the final tally for “Medicare,” but this is still a play to strongly consider.

Projection: 13.5

Either Says Middle Class

I can’t imagine this term being explicitly referenced too often.

One interesting angle is Elizabeth Warren was seemingly the only candidate who heavily used this term in prior debates. She has yet to endorse either Biden or Sanders, so I wonder if that could lead to either candidate referencing it once or twice as a way to appeal to her base.

Still, this may be overpriced.

Projection: 3.5

Biden Says China

Both candidates will reference China when discussing coronavirus. It will likely be used in their pitches on how they would have intervened earlier on in the outbreak. Biden already hinted at this in his speech earlier this week. He’ll likely reference his former experience dealing with world leaders, like in China, to make the case he’s more qualified for the job.

Projection: 5.5

Either Says Europe

Europe is an important topic in foreign policy. There will also likely be references to it when discussing coronavirus, though I still don’t see the exact word being used much.

We’ll likely see the candidates reference specific countries like the UK or Italy (or even the “Paris Agreement”) instead of Europe broadly.

Projection: 3.5

Biden Says Guns

I don’t anticipate guns being a major topic tonight (though it was addressed in the previous debate as Biden attacked Sanders for his voting record). Still, there seems to be a consensus between the candidates in terms of their belief in the Second Amendment but desire for gun control measures, so I can’t imagine them sparing over this as a result.

One factor in favor of this market, though, is that there likely wouldn’t be many synonyms used. If they discuss gun control, it’s likely they’ll often use the word “gun(s).” I see this as a high-floor, low-ceiling play.

Projection: 7.5


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Bernie Says China

This could be one of the worst dollar vs. projection plays on the slate.

I mentioned earlier that China could be referenced in the handling of the virus. Bernie may be a bit more hesitant to reference China specifically given Biden does have the edge in terms of experience dealing with other countries as VP. Bernie also tends to reference Xi Jinping specifically when referring to China, so I’m making this projection a tad lower than Biden’s.

Projection: 3.5

Biden Says Quarantine

Another bad play in terms of projection vs. price. Biden could reference this a few times when discussing coronavirus, but it was Bernie who made direct reference of “quarantine” in the three-minute samples I watched.

This play would hit its ceiling if the debate turns into a much more formal discussion on how people should prepare for the pandemic.

Projection: 2.5

Bernie Says Climate Change

Both candidates will likely want to discuss this tonight. Bernie could feel like he has an edge on Biden in terms of progressive policies to combat climate change, and could use this as an opportunity to make it a differentiator between him and Biden.

Projection: 6.5

Photo credit: Michael Tullberg/Getty Images. Pictured: Bernie Sanders

Bernie Says Quarantine

If you want to take a stab at the upside of the “quarantine” market in case the debate is mostly about coronavirus, you should go with Bernie — he’s been more willing to use the word when talking about measures that need to be taken.

Projection: 3.5

Either Says Impeach

There’s better value in the bottom-half of the player pool than this market. I don’t anticipate them needing to make reference to impeachment in this debate. This word has higher potential to be used much more often in a general election debate.

Projection: 3.5

Bernie Says Guns

Going with my theory that Bernie will want to focus on topics that separate him and Biden tonight, I’m guessing Sanders won’t feel the need to say “gun(s)” often — and even less so than Biden. Once again, though, the value in this market is that there aren’t many interchangeable words, so “gun” will often be said explicitly if/when they discuss the topic.

Projection: 5.5

Either Says Travel Ban

Neither candidate is likely to make direct reference to this term. When discussing how they would have handled this crisis, they’ll mention the timing of certain “travel bans” that would have been needed to contain the virus. I doubt it will warrant using the exact phrase more than a few times.

Projection: 3.5

Biden Says Climate Change

This could be a sneaky pick. One of the big differences between the candidates has been their approach to climate change. Bernie has been on the side of bold action, while Biden a bit more in the middle. With Biden likely looking ahead to the general election, I anticipate him to shift towards Bernie on this policy, potentially committing to a harder stance on aggressive actions he would take.

This is likely how Biden will win over younger voters, a group that he’ll need to inherit for the general election if he becomes the nominee.

Projection: 5.5

Either Says Russia

I see this topic taking a bit of a backseat tonight. Biden will likely be the one who references it when discussing Trump or Bernie, but I still don’t see his prep team deciding there’s much need to “go there” tonight. It’s much more likely they reference Putin directly (as opposed to the country) when discussing Russia.

For the price, however, it’s not a terrible play.

Projection: 5.5

Bernie Says Billionaire

This is the play of the slate. The free square.

This is fundamental to Bernie’s platform and he’ll drive it home against Biden tonight.

Projection: 8.5

Either Says Wash Hands

As with “quarantine,” this play has upside if this debate turns into a discussion on coronavirus preparation. If you want to get creative, you could play
“quarantine” and “wash hands” as a correlated stack with upside.

I do think the median for each is low, but there are scenarios in which they both break the slate.

Projection: 4.5

Biden Says Malarkey

I realize Biden drove a bus around on his “No Malarkey” campaign, but I don’t think I’ve heard him use the actual phrase often. I would say its +300 he even says it once tonight.

Projection: 0.5

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