This article first appeared at Betfair Australia’s The Hub on 20th March 2020
Since I last analysed the race for Next President – before the primaries began – events have somewhat transformed the context and the betting has swung wildly.
Last autumn, I was betting on Donald Trump to be impeached by the House of Representatives and predicting the fallout to dominate election year. Whilst that bet landed, impeachment now feels an awful long time ago. The Russia scandal, Mueller report and imprisonment of several key Trump allies has been completely eclipsed by the coronavirus scandal.
When the Senate voted against the House verdict, acquitting Trump, his odds for re-election went into freefall – to a new low of $1.65. Elsewhere, I wrote that his odds were even more wrong than ever, adding to various anti-Trump positions taken during his tumultuous first term. For the record, my average lay price is around $2.39 – leaving aside a convoluted series of hedges between various markets that is panning out better.
Then coronavirus took centre stage and the stock market crashed. Amid a general sense in the media that Trump was bungling the crisis, the market flipped back. In recent weeks, he’s drifted out to $2.30 and today the price is $2.16.
You may think I’m feeling more confident. Obviously it is a relief to see the odds move my way but, in fact, that isn’t the case. My view is that, contrary to what many of us once said about rational political betting markets, this one has become highly irrational, driven by dubious media narratives in a changing world. Let me explain.
First, my analysis of 2016 has not changed. Rather than the result representing a vindication of Trumpism, it was a rejection of Hillary Clinton. Trump underperformed Mitt Romney’s losing share from 2016 and the national GOP share. His victory was a geographical, statistical fluke, reliant on three factors.
First, a pair of successful ‘third party’ campaigns from Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, which disproportionately hurt Clinton. Second, a Kremlin-backed fake news campaign (later proven), that reinforced a quarter-century of negativity towards Clinton. Third, depressed turnout on the Democrat side, critically among black voters. This meant that, whilst she won the popular vote by 2.9M, the electoral college was lost by around 70K votes, spread across three states.
What has changed is my analysis of how likely voters are to switch and what issues would drive them to do so – in any election but particularly the USA. Back in 2017, I still believed votes shifted on the old fundamentals – events, scandals, mistakes, the economy.
Micro-targeting has changed the game
What we have learnt since – from the Mueller Report, the UK’s ‘Fake News Inquiry’, films such as The Great Hack, hard data from polls and elections – suggests the game has fundamentally changed. Those conventional indicators now barely move the needle.