The US election is deadlocked. The lack of betting volatility in recent days is unprecedented. Likewise, opinion poll trends have never been more stable than during the Trump presidency. The chances implied by Betfair’s odds are 54-45 in Biden’s favour, compared to 75-25 or higher on polling models.
The signals from those mediums differ widely but the message is the same. Few are changing their minds - whether US voters or gamblers estimating the accuracy of polls. One either trusts the models or not. What, if anything, could change minds as the campaigns intensify?
More protests and violence
US society is a powder keg. The news cycle has become a constant diet of violence and instability - police shooting unarmed black men, police being shot, looting, vigilantes shooting protesters, riot police tear-gassing peaceful protesters. Long before the recent spikes focused global attention, mass shootings had almost become normalised.
Trump has, and will continue, to fan the flames in the belief that it helps him. That he could emulate Richard Nixon’s ‘law and order’ strategy - leaving aside the inconvenient fact that Nixon was the challenger, whereas he is the incumbent upon whose watch the violence is occuring.
To date there is no evidence to suggest it is working for him but that doesn’t mean it won’t. Opinion is formed by creating a narrative and then bombarding voters with it. The Trump machine does that well. That anybody seriously believes Joe Biden is a ‘radical leftist’ who will ‘defund the police’ is a triumph of disinformation.
I’m not prepared to dismiss violence as a potential gamechanger yet. There are paid agitators and extremists intent on chaos being enabled. Nothing moves voters more than fear for their own safety and security.
Would a Covid vaccine help Trump?
Whilst Trump wants the conversation to focus on violence and lawlessness, Biden wants Covid arguments to stay centre stage and has predicted it will be the defining issue. His campaign will emphasise detailed plans and hammer home footage of Trump telling journalist Bob Woodward about the severity of the pandemic, at the same time he was telling America it was a ‘liberal hoax’.
Trump’s approval ratings on this are even more abysmal than usual - especially when set against other national leaders. His messaging is all over the place. One moment trying to claim credit for action. The next hosting huge indoor rallies involving few masks. Taking contradictory positions by the day, at odds with his own officials and expert medical advice.
He is hyping the prospect of a vaccine emerging before polling day, assuming it helps his cause, but politicising the argument is a bad look. If there is any further electoral gain from this, I expect it goes to Biden, whose numbers among more Covid-sensitive seniors are striking although one must assume any effect will be factored into polls by now.
Democrats set to build vast early voting advantage
My view has long been that the intense divisiveness of the Trump era is terrible for Republicans, driving lesser-registrated opponents to the polls in record numbers. Turnout soared off the scale at the mid-terms.
Over the next few weeks, I expect to see lots of stories regarding the Democrat’s advantage in early voting amid record numbers of mail-in applications. Such numbers aren’t always a reliable guide, but they could well affect the narrative and move the betting.
Are the TV debates a comeback route for Trump?
TV debates are the set-piece of any election. Gamblers focus intensely and often form big judgements in-running. Both during, and after polls confirmed her the winner, the opening debate of 2016 prompted a vast gamble on Hillary Clinton.
The three imminent debates are frequently highlighted as a comeback route for Trump. Their campaign’s narrative is that ‘Sleepy Joe’ Biden has dementia and will humiliate himself.
Of course, anything can happen but again, this is evidence-free. Biden was widely judged the winner of the final two primary debates. Trump lost all three debates in 2016 and rarely if ever won during the Republican primary. By winning nevertheless, he proved their effect is overhyped.
An ‘October Surprise’?
The ‘October Surprise’ has a long tradition in presidential elections. Never more so than 2016, which saw the Access Hollywood tapes and Podesta e-mails released within half hour or one another, generating an extraordinary battle for social media trends damaging to either candidate.
The Trump campaign is plotting in plain sight with Ukranians and their Russian allies, just as they were last year, leading to the president’s impeachment. Expect more dirt on Hunter Biden. Don’t expect anyone outside pro-Trump media to give it much attention unless there are genuinely new, important revelations. Once bitten, twice shy.
What of anti-Trump material? The revelations and voices coming out against him these past couple of months have been extraordinary. Nothing moved the polls. It may be that the Woodward tapes were the October Surprise, played early.
The impact of viral online conspiracies could be under the radar
Fake online news is the great known unknown. Facebook manipulation is arguably the greatest electoral tool of our time. Trump’s razor-thin 2016 margin may only have become possible by spreading conspiracy lies about Clinton, powered by the Kremlin.
Particularly since the Covid lockdowns begun, giving people more time to check their phones, the sick conspiracy Qanon has gone viral in many countries. Making baseless claims of an elite paedophile ring, allied to Democrats and whom Trump is exposing, ‘Q’ stands accused of being a 21st century rehash of the anti-semitic Russian forgery ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’. Literally a Nazi cult and a terrorist threat, according to the FBI.
As you can gather, my concerns about this cult go far beyond the trivia of political betting. I see no evidence of it affecting voting behaviour yet but am sceptical polls would accurately pick it up. The effect of smear campaigns is insidious. Clinton lost support among the key voter groups just as the targeting was intensified. Be warned.