Despite efforts by the Democratic National Committee to avoid separating the candidates into "high-polling" and "low-polling" debates, a random selection resulted in a big asymmetry between the first night and the second night of the Democratic primary debate.
While the attention on Wednesday was often focused around Sen. Warren, with supporting performances by Sens. Booker and Klobuchar (read our postdebate reaction), Thursday evening offered voters the opportunity to witness a face-off between four of the top five highest-polling candidates.
As with Night 1, an undercurrent of the evening was the debate—Mayor de Blasio called it a "fight for the heart and soul" of the Democratic Party—between two divergent political philosophies. This conflict was best evidenced by the dynamic tension between two of the Democratic Party's most prominent politicians—former VP Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders—throughout the evening.
It was hardly a surprise to see sparks fly over healthcare once again. Sen. Sanders has been at the vanguard of promoting a single-payer healthcare system, as envisaged in the Medicare for All (MFA) legislation. As we discussed in our recent report, ElectionWatch: A healthy debate , all of the 2020 Democratic candidates have expressed support for universal healthcare coverage in principle, and many have co-sponsored MFA legislation, but there has been a dividing line between those who view a government-run system as a "public option" and those who feel that it should replace private health insurance entirely.
On the first night, Sen. Warren and Mayor de Blasio were the only candidates on stage to offer a full-throated support for the elimination of private health insurance. On the second night, Sen. Sanders was only joined by Sen. Harris. Many of the other candidates on stage, such as Sen. Gillibrand and Mayor Buttigieg, were focused on a rapid transition to a single-payer system by first allowing private insurers to compete. A number of other comments from the evening are worth noting:
- Sen. Sanders: "People don't like their private insurance companies. They like their doctors and hospitals. Under our plan people go to any doctor they want, any hospital they want. We will substantially lower the cost of healthcare in this country because we'll stop the greed of the insurance companies."
- Sen. Bennet: "We need to get to universal healthcare. I believe the way to do that is by finishing the work we started with Obamacare and creating a public option that every family and every person in America can make a choice for their family about whether they want a public option, which for them would be like having Medicare for all, or whether they want to keep their private insurance."
- Former VP Biden: "Make sure that everyone does have an option. Everyone, whether they have private insurance or employer insurance and no insurance, they, in fact, can buy in, in the exchange to a Medicare like plan."
Democrats will need to secure a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate in order to pass legislation that would eliminate private health insurance in favor of a single payer system. We believe that is highly unlikely. But that doesn't mean that other healthcare reform measures will not pass. Unlike the first debate on Wednesday evening, pharmaceutical pricing received some attention from the candidates. Rising drug prices is likely to be a popular topic throughout the campaign. Many of the candidates on stage Thursday night called for the US government to negotiate directly with drug manufacturers within Medicare Part D in order to reduce drug costs. But this is just one of many proposals currently under consideration. Please read our recent report, What's new with healthcare reform? , and keep an eye out for updated reports on this topic on ubs.com/electionwatch.
While there were many areas of disagreement throughout the evening, all of the candidates were focused on the issue of economic inequality. By and large, they agreed that a more progressive tax system would be an important part of funding their proposed solutions. For example, entrepreneur Andrew Yang recommended a value added tax (VAT) to support a USD 1,000 monthly "freedom dividend"—his term for a Universal Basic Income program—to be paid to all American adults. Sen. Sanders called for higher taxes on Wall Street, and stressed that income taxes would increase for many Americans, but that this would be offset by a larger reduction in healthcare costs under a single-payer system. For his part, Mayor Buttigieg proposed a progressive "carbon tax a dividend" that would raise revenue to tackle climate change. The prospect of higher taxes is likely to be a major theme of the 2020 election, and pose a potential risk to investor portfolios. Taxation is a complex issue, and deserves closer scrutiny, which is why we've started a new series, "What if tax rates go higher?" You can read part 1 here , and listen to our podcast on the subject as well.
Another major aspect of the economy was the issue of deregulation and pushing back against "corporate consolidation." Many of the candidates on stage, on both nights, called for greater regulation, targeting technology and communication services firms in particular. Our recent report, Digging into potential technology regulation, helps to put these proposals into context for investors.
Centrists vs. progressives
We are continuing to see candidates separate into "lanes" in order to differentiate themselves in a crowded field. Of the candidates on stage Thursday night, Sens. Sanders and Gillibrand identified themselves as progressives, while Sen. Bennet and former VP Biden sought to straddle a middle ground, positioning themselves as pragmatists with a history of successfully negotiating bipartisan legislation. Governor Hickenlooper, like Rep. Delaney on the first night, appeared content to appear less progressive than other candidates on stage. Sen. Harris made a point to acknowledge that congressional gridlock would often be a challenge, and that unilateral executive action would be necessary.
Climate change, immigration, Russia, North Korea, Yemen, and Iran were among the many geopolitical issues raised during the evening. In contrast to the first night of the debate, US-China trade tariffs were a much-discussed subject. As we discussed a few weeks ago in US politics are unlikely to help China in trade discussions, the candidates largely agreed with the importance of competing aggressively with China and addressing trade issues such as intellectual property. But with broad disagreement over President Trump's use of tariffs to promote this objective, Democrats are likely to jump on any perceived missteps in future debates.
Who are the 2020 Democratic candidates?
Candidates, Night 1
Candidates, Night 2
Not in the first debate