With the outspoken and divisive Donald Trump still leading the Republican candidacy polls ahead of the US Primaries in February, many are taking a keener interest than they ordinarily would in this year’s race for the White House.
Despite his lead in the polls, many are refusing to believe Trump will actually become president and betting exchange Matchbook has already seen a flurry of bets against his winning. Whether or not it’s a Trump v Clinton showdown remains to be seen.
SBC sat down with Sporting Index’s Aidan Nutbrown and Michael Garforth to discuss political betting ahead of the primaries which are set to begin in Iowa on February 1st.
SBC: With the actual presidential elections not taking place till November, how much betting have you already seen on this and the primaries? Is it at higher volumes than usual, and if so do you attribute this solely to the impact of Donald Trump?
Aidan & Michael: We have had a steady flow of business since the day we put the markets up, with a notable increase in bets post-GOP debate or inflammatory comment on social media by Donald Trump. Having a strong, polarising public figure like Donald Trump in the race certainly helps business.
He is doing a great job at selling the potential showdown with Hillary Clinton like a prize fight, and with any great prize fight, the general public want to know who will win.
SBC: In the past how accurate have the pre-primaries opinion polls been? They currently show Trump far ahead of his Republican rivals.
Aidan & Michael: It differs for both parties. Only twice since World War 2 has a clear democratic front runner emerged prior to the start of the primary season and actually gone on to win the nomination. The two exceptions were Adlai Stevenson in 1956 and Walter Mondale in the 1984. On this day in 2004, Howard Dean led the Democratic field, and in 2008, Hilary Clinton held a 9.8 point lead over Obama. Both would go on to lose the lead and the nomination. Interestingly, the most famous democrat, JFK, did not emerge as the front runner until February of the election year.
As for the Republicans, the eventual nominee usually emerges prior to the primary season, and in most cases holds that position consistently throughout the primary season. This has been the case in the last 10 competitive Republican races, though the front runners have faced strong challenges in the early primary states in recent times, they have managed to stave off the competition and gain the nomination. On this day in 2008, John McCain led by 10.6 points, and 2012 Mitt Romney held a comfortable 12.6 point lead over the republican field.
SBC: Could you please explain to our readers how US voting differs to that in the UK in terms of voter habits and trends?
Aidan & Michael: US politics is much more polarized than politics in the UK due to its two party system. Its Red state vs Blue state, a look at the most recent political map of the United States reads like a map of free states and slaves states prior to the outbreak of the American civil war.
It is from this that Americas political divisions descended and are arguably more entrenched than ever. US voters are simply more ideological than voters in Britain. Since 2000, 40 states have voted for the same party in all four elections, compare this with the 111 seats that recently changed hands in the 2015 British general election.
However, similar to Britain, whilst though who identify with a political party have become more ardent in their views, more and more people in the US are identifying less with main stream political parties. In a recent Gallup poll, 42% identified as independents. It is this 42% and which way they lean that will determine the outcome of the election and that is why electing the right candidate is vital for either party to win, as candidate specific factors as opposed to party loyalty will be a greater consideration for voters.
SBC: Which types of bets tend to prove most popular in political betting?
Aidan: Electoral College Vote spread betting was our most popular market in the last US election.It provides larger volality and therefore the potential to win or lose bigger than traditional fixed odds style bets.We will have totals for each party, matchbets, and a variety of specials based on them.
SBC: Matchbook noted recently that it has experienced a high percentage of lay bets against Trump. Is this the same at Sporting Index, and what’s the current spread of bets on Hillary Clinton and the other candidates?
Aidan & Michael: Yes, the most popular candidate in the betting has been Donald Trump, and the overwhelming majority bets have been from punters selling Trump. Bernie Sanders is our second most popular candidate, followed by Rubio and then Hillary Clinton.
SBC: Do you anticipate this being the biggest presidential election in terms of bets placed?
Aidan & Michael: We hope so. The 2015 British General Election was the biggest political event in Sporting Index history by quite some distance, so we are really looking to build on the back of it and offer a wide range of political betting markets on the upcoming US election for new and existing clients.
However, it all depends on the match up and how it draws public interest. Trump vs Clinton would write itself, but Rubio vs Clinton may take a bit of work by our marketing team to stir up some interest. Though in that scenario, we would be very keen on taking Hillary on, so expect some decent value on Clinton offered by sporting index.
SBC: Bernie Sanders has been gaining traction in recent weeks, has this been recognised in the betting markets or do they tend to show it’s a two horse race between Trump and Clinton?
Aidan & Michael: It has been picked up by the betting markets to an extent. Sanders on the back of a favourable poll may shorten for a day or two, and then his price will drift back out. Punters aren’t really ‘feeling the bern’ just yet.
You can see the similarities between Sander’s price and Corbyn’s in the Labour leaders contest. Punters were slow to pick up on the fact that Corbyn could actually pull off the impossible and missed out on some fantastic value.
They would be ill advised to make the same mistake again, and if you are thinking about backing Sanders, I would do so before Iowa on February 1st where he could just pull off a surprise victory over Hillary.
SBC: In 2015 bookmakers in Britain took a hit on political betting with more than one event called wrong. Why did this happen, and do you expect US political betting in 2016 will provide similar surprises?
Aidan & Michael: For the General Election the public perception is that the pollsters “got it wrong”. In actual fact pollsters were largely tasked with producing ‘nowcasts’ not predictions.
They were describing the current state of the nation, or the cross section of the nation in question. There is a big difference in people’s actions at the ballotbox and their stated intentions prior to that, even if they themselves might think they know how they will vote. It’s essential a chaotic system primed to swing one way or the other, and who knows quite what the trigger might be, like a kite caught in an updraft that can suddenly plummet to Earth, or the spin of water going down a plughole.
I’m happy to say though that Sporting Index had a better time than most, who knows if I’ll be saying the same come November.