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Democratic debate: Nearly 50% of major US print outlets declare Clinton the winner

by | Feb 5, 2016 | Analysis, Media Monitoring, Online News, Politics and Government - US, Traditional Media

Last night Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders battled it out in New Hampshire in MSNBC’s televised Democratic presidential candidate debate.

And while all major polling suggests that Sanders has a sizeable lead in New Hampshire (varying between six and 20 points) and will most likely win the state, as the New York Daily News pointed out, a protracted Democratic nomination squabble could “end up destabilizing the Democratic primary.”

A MediaMiser Enterprise sentiment analysis of coverage from 30 of the top US dailies found that while most publications agree Sanders didn’t win the debate, there was still a significant number that also didn’t declare an outright winner:

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The majority of content declaring Clinton as the winner typically praised her more aggressive demeanor. Twenty-seven per cent of publications described her as “fiery”, with some other words/phrases being “vociferously”, “tough as nails”, “wouldn’t take any guff”, “ready to brawl”, “main aggressor”, and “contentious”.

Several outlets that didn’t declare a winner noted that Sanders forced Clinton to “punch back” and “put her on her back foot” on several issues, describing the Sanders push as a good thing leading to more debate within the party.

The small number of outlets that tipped the debate to Sanders focused on his surprise momentum in the Democratic candidate race, adding that Clinton had much more to lose.

As for actual debate content, Newsday described it as “the least policy specific hour of a Democratic presidential debate ever,” noting that the focus was more on “ideology” and party loyalty.

The two biggest areas of focus were the definition of “progressive” (mentioned in 87% of outlets), Sanders’ call for a “political revolution” (mentioned in 30% of outlets), and the debate over Wall Street and the financial sector (mentioned in 93% of outlets).

Clinton was heavily praised for her performance on foreign policy (mentioned in 73% of outlets), where Sanders was criticized for his lack of knowledge, even admitting that Clinton “had more experience” but that he had “superior judgement.” The Wall Street Journal summarized this debate by referring to Clinton as “The Doer” and Sanders as “The Dreamer.”

In the end, USA Today reminded us that these are two members of the same party, with Clinton noting at the conclusion of the debate that the first person she’d call if she won to “discuss the direction of the Democratic party would be Sanders”, while Sanders replied “On our worst days, I think it’s fair to say we are 100 times better than any Republican candidate” — after which the two candidates shook hands.

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