If Candidates Were Stocks — Buy, Sell, or Hold?

It’s been a while since I took a close look at the 2020 race. PPFA’s last few weeks have instead issued an April Fools challenge, discussed some Game of Thrones quotes, and risked drawing the ire of over 2 billion Christians by ranking Jesus as only the seventh most influential figure in Western history — during holy week. Today, it’s time to catch up with the candidates. (This should not be confused with “Ketchup with the Candidates,” surely a quadrennial cookout event in some small New Hampshire town.)

I need a gimmick through which I can quickly take stock of all the major campaigns. Ooh, just saying that sentence gives me the idea… what if candidacies were stocks? Which ones would I advise you to buy shares of, which ones to sell off, and which ones to be patient and see how it goes?

Before I do that, we first must have a baseline value for each candidate in relationship to each other — kind of like an IPO. I’ve ultimately come up with something subjectively objective. (Or maybe it’s objectively subjective. I don’t know.) It turns out explaining how I came to the values takes forever, so I’m going to relegate the methodology to a footnote, like so.[1]

With that out of the way, let’s hit the market floor. We’ll go from lowest to highest initial valuation.


(Note: candidates ranked 12, 11, and 10 are constantly shifting positions depending on their constantly updated PredictIt values bouncing between 1 and 2 cents.)

12. Julian Castro
National polling ranking: 9 –> $4
Oddsmakers ranking: 12 –> $1
PredictIt ranking: 12 (basement 1 cent price) –> $1
Initial public offering: $6.00

He has the lowest price of our dozen candidates, and there’s good reason. He’s the only Latino in the race, but Latinos have not flocked to him like he hoped. He’s been pretty visible with lots of media appearances, but not one has impressed me. It seemed like he was supposed to run for president, but he’s not ready to throw a party on his back. His optimal finish for this former HUD Secretary is getting promised another cabinet position by a candidate who needs a last minute endorsement in Texas or Florida. I don’t even think a VP offer — which could diversify a white presidential nominee’s ticket and ostensibly help in Florida, Arizona, and New Mexico battlegrounds — makes sense anymore. That’s how big of a dud he’s been. Advice: SELL.

10/11. Kirsten Gillibrand
National polling ranking: 11, which translates to $2
Oddsmakers ranking: 11 –> $2
PredictIt ranking: tied for 10th  –> $2.50
IPO: $6.50

Yikes! Those are some troubling rankings in this disaster of a campaign. The people don’t like her, the bookies don’t like her, and the market doesn’t like her. I’m not too surprised, though. After she jumped in the race, I warned, “While she excites few constituencies or powerful interests, she also alienates few constituencies and powerful interests. . . . Nonetheless, in this surely crowded primary, I don’t think inoffensiveness is particularly helpful.”

She’s a high-profile New York Senator — like the last Democratic nominee — yet she hasn’t been able to convert that into anything. I mean, she’s polling behind Andrew Yang. I don’t see a debate stage as a place for her to shine either. Advice: Make a quick five bucks to invest in elsewhere. SELL

10/11. Tulsi Gabbard
National polling ranking: 12 (actually worse, as she’s below Hickenlooper’s 0.7-point national average, but he didn’t qualify for today’s gimmick) –> $1
Oddsmakers ranking: 10 –> $3
PredictIt ranking: Tied for 10th –> $2.50
IPO: $6.50

I tried to warn you back at my first Power Rankings, when she was my lowest ranked dwarf planet: as long as Bernie Sanders is a top tier candidate, her candidacy cannot gain the traction it needs to be competitive, and Bernie Sanders is not going anywhere. Still, the basement price is right here. She’ll look and sound great on a debate stage. Let’s not sell until her candidacy still looks anemic after the summer. Advice: HOLD for now, or buy if you’re looking for a cheap investment that you can sell later.

9. Amy Klobuchar
National polling ranking: 8 –> $5
Oddsmakers ranking: 9 –> $4
PredictIt ranking: tied for 9th –>$3.50
IPO: $12.50

There’s a four-Senator pile-up well behind the top tier. Senator Gillibrand’s crash has been the loudest, but Klobuchar’s has been, to me, the most disappointing. After such an impressive re-election bid in the swing state of Minnesota (in contrast, Gillibrand, Booker, and Warren come from safely Democratic states), I thought a desperate Democratic Party would give her more of a chance, especially after the so-called “Year of the Woman.” That hasn’t been the case.

I do believe, however, that it will. She has a matter-of-fact charisma to her that the country has yet to see. She’ll do well in the debates, and, of the candidates not polling in the top six, she has the best chance to catch fire in Iowa. I still don’t think she can win the nomination, but that’s due to the delegate dearth in the Midwest, not her early struggles in today’s three categories. Advice: This is a nice price at which to BUY some shares.

8. Cory Booker
National polling ranking: 7 –> $6
Oddsmakers ranking: 8 –> $5
PredictIt ranking: 8 –> $5
IPO: $16

Gillibrand’s thud has been the loudest and Klobuchar’s the most disappointing, but Booker’s has been the most surprising. His high energy optimism was perfect for the campaign trail, and he seemed prime to rally the sizable African American fraction of the Democratic Party. Combined, these attributes made him seem like Obama 2.0. Though that hasn’t manifested yet, it still might. Advice: HOLD

7. Andrew Yang
National polling ranking: 10 –> $3
Oddsmakers ranking: 6 –> $7
PredictIt ranking: 5 –> $8
IPO: $18

Andrew Yang is 7th according to this metric?! I knew he was making some noise, but I was surprised to see him this high. In fact, in the first draft of today’s column, he was actually in sixth place — ahead of Elizabeth Warren(!) — but his ranking in the volatile PredictIt market fell since then, when he was in a tie for second. Of course, therein lies the problem with PredictIt, an online monetary website which attracts a certain subset of voters that aren’t necessarily representative of the larger voting population, chiefly: young white nerds that are drawn to candidates like Yang and Bernie Sanders. Yang could claim to be king of the nerds right now and these nerds would arrange the coronation. The Brown and Columbia grad and Venture for America CEO proposes a Universal Basic Income proposal — $1000 a month to everyone, no questions asked — in order to ease our way onto the other side of this dramatically transforming economy. You know who likes that idea? Computer nerds who live in their parents’ basements.

In an era where Donald F. Trump became President of the United States, it would be wrong to write off a CEO who has radical ideas, no political experience, and a rabid following on internet message boards. His price here as the seventh most valuable candidacy, however, looks absurd to me. Advice: SELL

6. Elizabeth Warren
National polling ranking: tied for 5th –> $7.50
Oddsmakers ranking: 7 –> $6
PredictIt ranking: 7 –>$6
IPO: $19.50

Congratulations on ranking ahead of Andrew Yang? That’s about as complimentary as we can be of a candidacy that was expected to be a co-favorite but now lags in a second or third tier. Replies to her most aggressive Twitter comments are still littered with Native American jokes. She surely wonders how long before people start caring about other people’s lies as much as hers, and the answer looks to be “never.” President Trump’s “Pocahontas” attack has successfully neutralized her campaign.

I think she’ll have strong debates and get Democrats to reconsider her candidacy, but forever nagging at voters will be how she’s been completely owned in her rivalry with the man she’d have to beat for the Democrats to win back the White House. My advice is to BUY the nicely priced, high-upside stock for now, but be ready to sell at a higher price this winter once the President resumes his attacks.

5. Beto O’Rourke
National polling ranking: 3 –> $10
Oddsmakers ranking: 5 –> $8
PredictIt ranking: 6 –> $7
IPO: $25

When he jumped into the race a month ago, it was shortly after I named him the second least unlikely Democratic nominee. He was polling fifth at just a 5.5 Real Clear Politics average, but he has since climbed to third and 8.8. Still, though that looks like pretty good momentum, he’s well behind the top two polling leaders, and is in fact closer to 0 points than he is to second place. Since his IPO today is propped up by polling at the top of the tightly packed middle part of the field, perhaps we should pay more attention to his other indicators. Those who actually have money at stake don’t like his chances as much as his polling and fundraising suggest they should. It’s not an unreasonable position. O’Rourke was a rather centrist Congressman in a party that’s moved considerably left, and his frustrating lack of specificity grates the type of people who give Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang a better chance to win.

Yet, I maintain that he can win over the people on the left and center, voters on the coasts and in the heartland, residents in the northern cities and the southern countryside. And goodness knows he’ll have the money to do it. There’s still a chance to BUY.

4. Pete Buttigieg
National polling ranking: tied for 5th –> $7.50
Oddsmakers ranking: 4 –> $9
PredictIt ranking: 3 –> $10
IPO: $26.50

A decent chunk of Presidential Politics for America‘s traffic comes from random google searches. I like tracking these searches to see what people out there seem to be interested in. This year, two random searches have driven a lot of people to PPFA:

  1. My piece on the presidential line of succession is my second most read column of 2019, even though it was written in May of last year. The trickle has been steady. People continue to be fascinated with an executive branch wipe out. I can’t imagine why.
  2. My column on Pete Buttigieg from when he declared his exploratory committee in January is my most read column this year. It’s also my most read column this month.

The people are interested in Mayor Pete! Of course, part of the reason for high internet traffic is because people don’t know who the heck he is. Anonymity is typically not an ideal starting point for winning an election.

Nevertheless, as people learn about him, they like what they hear. This 37-year-old once nearly anonymous mayor is now tied for fifth with Elizabeth Warren in his RCP polling average. Relevantly, in Iowa, he’s showed third in the last two polls. I gave you the heads up here: he was this race’s dark horse.

But he’s not dark anymore. People are paying attention. However, to have him at the fourth most valuable IPO — ahead of Warren and O’Rourke — feels a little rich. It might be a good time to sell, as perhaps he’s having his “moment” now, while Booker, Klobuchar, and Warren’s are still ahead. That being said, he’s done this well and he hasn’t even had his best medium yet: the debate stage. At $27 in today’s subjectively objective IPO, he’s a bit too pricey to buy, but I wouldn’t advise selling either. Advice: HOLD

3. Kamala Harris
National polling ranking: 4 –> $9
Oddsmakers ranking: 2 –> $11
PredictIt ranking: 4 –> $9
IPO: $29

As the pre-primaries primary has evolved, there’s this nagging feeling that Kamala Harris is the 2016 Marco Rubio of the 2020 race. Both were superstar first-term Senators that made a ton of sense on paper. (Indeed, Rubio was my pick to win the nomination right up until the New Hampshire Primary.) Might Harris follow Rubio’s disappointing result of never converting the potential into something meaningful? Despite oddsmakers initially loving her as the favorite to be the nominee — after all, in a heavily minority party in the midst of a left turn and coming off the Year of the Woman, a minority woman with a progressive voting record sounded perfect — Democratic voters have yet to agree. She doesn’t rank top two in any national, Iowa, or New Hampshire polls. Heck, in the only California poll we have, she ran third in her home state! Even with the oddsmakers loving her, I never ranked her higher than the third most likely nominee. Though she’s still poised for a strong South Carolina and Super Tuesday, I don’t think that’ll be enough. At least Rubio had a realistic path come February. Harris might end up with a worse 2016 mirror — Scott Walker. Though she still might end up being the nominee by default, I don’t think she’s worth the third priciest IPO. Advice: SELL

1/2. Joe Biden
National polling ranking: 1 –> $12
Oddsmakers ranking: 3 –> $10
PredictIt ranking: 1 (late end-of-the-week charge from 3rd) –> $12
IPO: $34

Though he’s not my preferred candidate in this young race, PPFA readers know that I consider him the least unlikely nominee and the Democrats’ best chance to beat President Trump. Their surest path to victory is to win back Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and Biden appears to be the least risky way to do it. Other contenders — like Sanders, Harris, and Warren — are a good way to excite progressives and run up the score on the west coast and in New England. That might well be the best way to secure another popular vote win for the Dems. But an Electoral College swing? That’s Biden territory.

So it feels like I’d advise you to buy his stock, right? Not exactly. I’ve had to lower Biden’s odds in recent weeks for obvious reasons. Democratic voters who want to look at themselves in the mirror after all their criticisms about Trump’s sexual misconduct allegations will look elsewhere for their own nominee. Without question, the accusations toward Trump are worse than toward Biden — though you wouldn’t know it if you asked Trump and other Republicans, who have seized on Biden’s past handsiness without a hint of self-awareness — but the two sets of allegations share important political similarities. Both men faced the accusations when it came time to run for political office, a glaring problem with timing as the accusers should have spoken up earlier if they didn’t want to be counter-accused of having political motivations. Relatedly, both men almost completely weathered the storm; Trump went on to be elected President while Biden’s polling lead actually grew in the weeks after the narrative. Finally, the most instructive similarity: their supporters just don’t seem to care. Either they don’t believe the women, or they prioritize a political agenda over their personal feelings.

However, even though Biden’s supporters haven’t yet backed off, I do think he’s alienated some voters who will end up leaving their top choices and searching for a contender. Once the candidates whittle early next year, only a handful of candidates will remain, and the winner will be the one best positioned to soak up support from newly freed up voters. Just like the scorched-earth politics of Bernie Sanders and many of his supporters will make it difficult to assemble a majority coalition, Biden, facing an even steeper uphill climb with leftists and young voters, will find it even harder to grow a following beyond moderate and older voters. He’s still the favorite, but baaaaaaarely. As the second priciest IPO, my advice would be to HOLD.

1/2. Bernie Sanders
National polling ranking: 2 –> $11
Oddsmakers ranking: 1 –> $12
PredictIt ranking: 2 –> $11
IPO: $34

Up until the weekend, he had led PredictIt for quite some time and was therefore on top of today’s valuation when I wrote the first draft. However, a late pass from Biden now puts them into a tie at $34. Added to these three impressive category performances is that he led all candidates in first quarter fundraising, so you can understand why his not-so-merry band of leftists are always so confident that we’re underestimating his potential. It’s a potent candidacy to be sure, and I give him major props for following PPFA’s advice and actually going on Fox News to reach its audience after the DNC said it couldn’t trust the network to host a debate.

However (there’s alllways a however!), his impressive polling and fundraising are still a reflection of his primary primary problem this time around. He was polling much better in the heat of the 2016 Democratic Primary, and he was fundraising a lot more. Where has that popular and financial support gone? He hasn’t grown his popularity in four years, he’s lost it — and he didn’t have enough to win the primary back then either.

Though of course his lower numbers stem from there having been only one major opponent four years ago whereas now it’s a crowded field, but that’s also the point: this isn’t last time. Only Biden rivals Sanders’s name recognition. As other candidates approach Sanders’s and Biden’s name rec, we can expect the other candidates will tug at the leaders’ numbers. Already known commodities, it’s unlikely that support goes in the opposite direction between now and the contests, especially with Biden’s alleged creepiness and Sanders’s penchant for alienating those who disagree. With the highest IPO, my advice is to SELL Sanders stock.


[1] To find their opening stock price, I’m going to to consider the following three categories, then assign a dollar amount depending on where each candidate ranks in each category:

  1. Their ranking in national polls.
  2. Their ranking according to an assortment of oddsmakers.
  3. And the closest thing to an actual stock market — their ranking on PredictIt, which actually does allow you to buy and sell shares using real money. (It’s tempting to make PredictIt the only determinant for initial value, but as you’ll soon see, it’s a pretty imperfect system. It’s constantly in flux, and it’s disproportionately influenced by a certain type of user.)

I also need to have a firm cut-off of which candidacies I will consider, that way I know how much value to assign to the leading candidate of each category. After all, of the 227 (and counting) official Democratic candidates, nearly all of them don’t register in those categories. I’ve therefore removed candidates not registering in national polls (sorry, Jay Inslee, John Delaney, Eric Swalwell, Tim Ryan, and others) AND they either have absurdly low odds that some bookies don’t even bother or are at the basement price of one cent at PredictIt (sorry, so many others). Including them would screw up our values.

As a result, only 12 candidates will be listed, and a category leader — like Joe Biden in polls — would give him the value of 12 dollars in that category. Finishing second in a category is worth 11 dollars, and so on, until finishing 12th among this dozen is worth one dollar. I add up each candidate’s value in all three categories to find their IPO. In the future, we can check to see market fluctuations, and we’ll see how strong my buy, sell, or hold advice was.

5 thoughts on “If Candidates Were Stocks — Buy, Sell, or Hold?

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