Odds favour Biden, but anything can happen - GulfToday

Odds favour Biden, but anything can happen


Joe Biden. File

James Moore, The Independent

Donald Trump’s coronavirus infection sent presidential betting markets into a tizzy, shutting them down for a while. Joe Biden has consolidated his position at their head since their reopening.

From a shade of odds-on (so 5/6) when I last wrote, the Democrat has moved in to 1/2, which implies a victory probability of 67 per cent. Per Oddschecker, the best price you’ll get is 8/15. That still appears to represent very good value when set against Biden’s increasingly strong poll lead.

The recent batch of post-debate surveys showed it extending into monster territory. A Wall Street Journal/NBS News poll, for example, had the president trailing his opponent by 14 points.

That may be an outlier. The various poll trackers have it at something more like 8.5, but that’s good enough, especially with favourable findings from surveys conducted in the battleground states that the Democrat needs to carry to win the US electoral college. Biden, for example, has an eight-point lead in Arizona, per a recent New York Times/Siena College poll, a state that has been solidly Republican red since 2000.

The model created by Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, which crunches polling data and forecasts a range of scenarios based on what it’s saying, now has Biden winning in 83 out of 100 of them.

Based on that, the betting price should be closer to 1/5. One good reason why it’s not? It’s 2020 and while you can’t statistically calculate the potential for a WTF outcome, the chances of it happening would seem to be unusually strong. PS: in the unlikely event you’re unaware of what that stands for you can get the answer on the internet. Be warned it’s NSFW.

In normal times, the US system produces a clear result. There was a bit of a WTF moment created by Ross Perot’s quixotic 1992 candidacy, in which he secured 19 per cent of the popular vote, a record for a third-party candidate, when facing off against the victorious Bill Clinton and George H W Bush. Thanks to a computer glitch, one of the UK networks projected him winning several states early on. In the end, he didn’t carry any.

The real doozy came in 2000, when the world learned all about hanging chads on voting punch cards, and Al Gore officially lost despite being the first winner of the popular vote since 1888 to do so. A disputed result in Florida tipped the scales in favour of George W Bush and it all ended up in court, with Gore ultimately conceding, leaving it to historians to play “what if”. Some post-result analyses suggested he should have gone to the White House.

Those past controversies pale by comparison to what’s been going on this year, what with the global pandemic and the identity of the current man in the White House.

WTF number one? What if one of the candidates dies. This has been much discussed in the wake of Trump’s coronavirus infection. It’s a legitimate concern given the pandemic and the fact that both candidates are well past retirement age.

A sitting president is replaced by the vice-president – so Mike Pence, per the US constitution. It’s happened before, for example, when JFK was assassinated and when Richard Nixon resigned.

But candidate Pence doesn’t automatically get to step into his boss’s shoes on the same basis. The identity of a replacement for Trump, were one to be needed, is in the gift of the 168-member Republican National Committee, where politics would come into play before you even got to the question of altering the ballot. That may not be possible in some states and some Americans have, anyway, already voted.

If the winning candidate dies after the election but before the electoral college meets, you would think electors, usually party loyalists, would coalesce around the vice-presidential candidate, potentially good news for those backing them at long odds – Pence is available at 80-1, Kamala Harris at 100-1.

But it’s no certainty and it could, once again, get very messy. Betting on the winning party, as opposed to the identity of the next president, eliminates some of the uncertainty.

The number two situation comes into play if the election is close (or even if it is not) and Trump refuses to concede. He’s been preparing the ground with a series of baseless allegations about voter fraud, and has been stacking the Supreme Court with Conservative justices, so the potential for another almighty mess is clearly there.

Ladbrokes told me it will settle bets on the winner as declared after the US general election “allowing for any relevant legal or constitutional challenges”. In cases where there is any ambiguity relating to the result, it reserves the right to wait until it’s resolved. Betfair’s US election market will be settled by whichever candidate wins the most electoral college votes.

Some bookies may, for PR purposes, choose to settle apparently winning bets if it does turn into a car crash, but that could prove very costly given the sheer size of a market which is shaping up to be a record breaker.

One way or another, Biden, whom I have money riding on, is a more of a risky bet than the polling implies.

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