The most significant gamble towards the 2020 US Election is underway. In the fortnight since Joe Biden declared his candidacy, the former Vice President has risen to clear second favourite behind Donald Trump, with his odds shortening from 15.0 to a new low of 6.4 this morning.
Biden opens up vast early primary lead
If the latest Democrat Nominee polls are to be believed, those odds will shorten further. The last five surveys record Biden ranging between 38 and 46%, amounting to a massive 23.5% RCP average lead. Few will be surprised to see him leading early but the scale is quite shocking. Can we trust it?
In a word, no. Betting this early on party leadership contests in any country is a risky business and US primaries are notorious. Candidates can dramatically rise and fall in literally a matter of minutes. Consider, for example, recent presidential primaries.
Early favourites have a poor recent record
This time four years ago, Trump wasn’t even in the race. Hillary Clinton was generally regarded a shoe-in for the nomination at odds-on and firm favourite for the presidency. Once Biden opted out, that remained the case despite Bernie Sanders’ popular, insurgent campaign.
The Republican favourite throughout 2015 was Jeb Bush. He traded below [3.0] but didn’t even make the top-five. As argued consistently at the time, his lead was a false one, based primarily on name recognition. The first to challenge him for favouritism was Marco Rubio – who finished a distant fourth.
2012 was in some ways even more dramatic. Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich all headed the Republican market at some stage. Of those, only Gingrich was on the eventual primary ballot. Mitt Romney ultimately prevailed. On the Democrat side, President Barack Obama ran unchallenged.
In 2008, Obama had started a long way behind the odds-on favourite Clinton while the Republican race was extremely volatile. Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and Romney all led at some stage with only the latter proving competitive in third place behind John McCain – who was available at 20/1 plus going into election year.
Biden bounce smashes identity politics theory
The general assumption was that this Democrat race would be similarly open. 20 candidates have already thrown their hat in the ring and more could well follow.
Moreover, particularly after numerous younger new faces were elected at the mid-terms, a strong narrative had grown that the party would switch to a new generation.
Many also argued that they would prioritise diversity and identity politics that would be ruinous for old, white men such as Biden or Sanders.
Yet here we are, weeks out from the opening debate, and the best two known names are taking out over half the vote while widely tipped California Senator Kamala Harris is languishing on 7%. What is going on?