She had many things going for her. Her soundbites were delivered with ease, passion and impact. She directed a strong message about racism at the lead candidate, Joe Biden, and landed her point successfully. She even calmed down a rowdy stage by rising above the noise to say, “People don’t want to hear a food fight, they want to hear how we’re going to put food on their tables”. While this is obviously a rehearsed line, few people could deliver this fluidly, in the heat of a debate, and make it sound natural.
Her voice can build from a conversational steady pace, up to a roaring crescendo, winning her several rounds of applause in a single sentence. Her eyes show clear emotion and resolve. Plus she is able to speak in simple terms and tell stories that draw us in.
All of this led to her coming up on top of the 20 candidates at the debates so far, based on audible audience support.
This is how I measured the reactions that each candidate gained. During their debates I listened out for the following and created a score for each person:
Quiet applause when you finish speaking = 1 point
Loud applause when you finish speaking = 2 points
Positive laughter = 2 points
Quiet applause halfway through speech = 2 points
Loud applause halfway through speech = 3 points
Whooping and cheering = 3 points
And these were the scores:
Democrat scores in order
Kamala Harris 55
Julian Castro 51
Bernie Sanders 50
Joe Biden 45
Pete Buttigieg 39
Cory Booker 33
Eliz Warren 24
Tulsi Gabbard 22
Tim Ryan 20
Marianne Williamson 19
Beto O’Rourke 18
Amy Klobuchar 17
Eric Swalwell 17
Bill De Blasio 16
Kirsten Gillibrand 16
Michael Bennett 15
Jay Inslee 13
John Hickenlooper 11
Andrew Yang 8
John Delaney 9
It’s important to note that the 20 candidates were split up across two evenings. The audience on the second evening was louder than the first (Harris spoke on the second night). I also feel that Castro gained a higher score than others due to one especially vocal Latino audience member, who even cheered loudly when the word ‘Latino’ was used by a member of the media panel.
Following this score, here are a few predictions we could make:
- Andrew Yang and John Delaney will likely soon leave the race, they didn’t make much of an impact on the audience.
- I would be surprised if anyone gaining below 18 points is still in the race in January, even though I personally liked Kirsten Gillibrand’s style. She had a passionate voice and lots of intelligent points. She just lacked the punchy soundbites and vocal lift that is required to gain applause from the crowd. However, perhaps she made enough impact to gain a high-level job offer in a Democratic administration.
- Although Marianne Williamson gained a score of 19, the media have strongly criticised her for not having enough concrete ideas. It is important to win people over emotionally AND logically. So I doubt she’ll win this race.
- Previously O’Rourke had gained a lot of media attention, and I do feel he has a strong voice at times, but he can appear rushed and his voice is often breathy, which lowers his impact at key moments, when he could have won more applause.
Overall, my best guess is that the nominee for the Democratic party is in the top 7 scores that I’ve highlighted above, but unlikely to be Castro. The Democratic party should feel delighted to have such a diverse group in that top 7, with people of different race, sexual orientation and a mix of men and women.
Do let me know your view on the candidates, I’d love to hear your emotional reaction to each of them. And tune in to the next debate with a different perspective — listen through the ears of the audience. This may give you an early indicator about who may be the next leader in the White House.
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