How The Rich Got Richer At The Democratic Debate

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton showed that under the camera lights, time is most definitely money

Uh, who are those guys on the left? — (Illustration: R. A. Di Ieso/Vocativ)
Oct 14, 2015 at 3:04 AM ET

Bernie Sanders may be a socialist at heart, but when it comes to hogging the limelight, he happily benefits from a position of privilege just like the other front-runner, Hillary Clinton—and he’s not about to give that up. A Vocativ analysis of questions asked and right-to-reply moments during Tuesday’s Democratic debate shows that the rich (Sanders and Clinton) got considerably richer, dominating talktime purely because they were most talked about people at the debate.

By the CNN rules, any time a candidate mentions another member of the debate panel, that person must be given 30 seconds rebuttal time to respond. As a result, it’s common knowledge that good debaters refrain from name-checking the opposition.

Because Clinton and Sanders were talking points in and of themselvesthey drew mentions from the other participants regularly throughout the debate, reaffirming their status as the centers of attention. Both Clinton and Sanders got seven right-to-reply slots apiece as a result, amounting to 3.5 additional precious minutes each of unopposed talk time in which to state their case.

And while the two big names were willing to engage each other, they either took care not to mention Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, or Lincoln Chaffee as little as humanly possible, or just overlooked them as insignificant props. Either way, the result was the same — the three lesser candidates spent less time as part of the conversation. In politics, as in life, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

The Democratic frontrunners, meanwhile, fielded the exact same number of questions — 24 apiece, far more than any of their rivals.

Try as they might to get a foothold in the conversation, the other three candidates simply weren’t at the table. They drew just one right-to-reply apiece, meaning that for the duration of the two-hour event, Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chaffee were only name-checked in their competitors responses a single time. Compound that with the fact that they were ignored, comparatively, by the moderators, and the amplifying effect given to Clinton and Sanders was very notable.


While Sanders used some of his time to rail about the inequality in America’s political system, the Vermont senator was more than happy to benefit from his own position of privilege at the pulpit. Time on the stump is money in a very real sense, and at one point, Senator Jim Webb made a desperate plea, begging Bernie’s inner socialist for a stray name-check to get him in the game:

WEBB: Bernie, say my name so I can get into this.

SANDERS: I will, just a second.

WEBB: OK. Thank you.


SANDERS: I’ll tell him.

Sanders, of course, never did tell Anderson Cooper or name-check Webb, leaving him out in the cold again. Webb was asked just 12 questions by Anderson Cooper and his co-hosts, half the number afforded Sanders and Clinton.

Webb still fared better than Lincoln “block of granite” Chafee, who only saw 10 questions sent his way by the moderators.

The candidates’ performance was reflected on Twitter, where Clinton gained 10,000 followers during the debate hosted in Las Vegas. It was Bernie’s night, however — he gained an impressive 46,000 followers during the debate.

To add insult to Webb and Chafee’s floundering campaigns, both drew fewer new followers than Vice President Joe Biden, who hasn’t announced whether or not he’ll run in 2016 and was represented by a bubble-wrapped podium somewhere in a CNN green room. And as ever, when it comes to the rich getting richer, there is only one man in the campaign. The Donald.