With less than a week until the election, the scope for a gamechanger is miniscule. Opinion has long been entrenched and a record 70M have already voted, still rising. In many Texas counties, they’ve already topped their entire 2016 tally. The time for speculating about what might happen is past. Now to bet on what is actually happening.
Betfair’s Next President market is now the biggest in betting history, beating the £199M traded on Trump v Clinton and on course to double that total. This exchange is where I do most of my trading but sportsbooks around the world are also offering more diverse markets than ever. I haven’t scoured them all but if you see a bet and want an opinion, feel free to contact me on Twitter @paulmotty.
1: Back Biden to win @ 1.51
Readers of my regular columns throughout 2020 or indeed anywhere since 2016 will know I’m heavily against Trump. I have a big position on Biden which equates to odds of 2.1. No need, therefore to press up but if you haven’t played yet, 1.5 represents excellent value. Estimates from reputable, comprehensive polling models equate to odds around 1.15 or shorter.
Biden has led him head-to-head for five years. His 9% average lead is higher than any recent front-runner. However this isn’t a massive endorsement of the Democrat. Rather, a referendum on a uniquely polarising president whom the majority are against. One-sided national and state polls are predictable given trends and results since 2016.
This is not a re-run of 2016. Biden has a much higher approval rating than Clinton and isn’t under federal investigation. There is no strong third party to split the anti-Trump vote this time. Biden has a huge lead among this group and previous non-voters. Democrat turnout, especially among blacks in pivotal cities, fell ruinously last time. Ever since, their turnout has soared off the scale, as illustrated by early voting numbers.
Trump is a uniquely polarising figure, whose presence overwhelms all other considerations. The election is a referendum on him. The biggest issue is Covid, about whom around 60% oppose his handling. Biden has led him head-to-head for five years and the margin has risen during the campaign.
Even before the pandemic, polls consistently showed a clear majority against and record strong disapprovals. More than 50% frequently said they would vote for any Democrat opponent. Up to 55% wanted him removed from office during impeachment only nine months ago.
2: Biden to win the popular vote by more than 10% @ 2.75 (Paddy Power, Skybet)
With all that in mind, the current polls are not in any way surprising. I think opinion on Trump is extremely predictable. Most either love or hate him, with historically few on the fence. For months, my prediction for the final vote share has been Biden 53.5%, Trump 44.5%, Others 2%. Today’s Fivethirtyeight average lead is 9.1%.
Could the polls be wrong? Of course. Anything from 6-12% feels perfectly realistic. The one thing polls often misread is differential turnout. Indeed that was one important reason behind the 2016 misread and the two other great political betting upsets - Brexit and the 2017 UK election. One side - Republicans, Leavers, Labour voters - were better motivated than their opponents.
If differential turnout is a factor this time, I reckon it will work against Trump. From the moment he took office - whether the gubernatorial races in Virginia and Kentucky, mid-term for the House of Representatives or elections for Wisconsin’s Supreme Court - anti-Trump turnout has soared. Particularly among women and African Americans.
I’m happy with that 9% popular vote margin estimate but would rather back higher than lower. There have been several more outlier polls showing Biden ahead in the mid-teens than by 5% or below. In many safe GOP states, huge Trump leads in 2016 have shrunk markedly. It is also possible to imagine Democrats running up irrelevant tallies in uncompetitive states.
The fundamental reason I’m so confident about Biden is his path to victory in the electoral college. There are 538 electoral college votes, allocated to the winners of each state. 270 is the winning line.
If Biden wins these six states, it is almost unimaginable that he doesn’t win the presidency. They would take him to 278. The first three were won narrowly by Clinton. The last three went narrowly for Trump. Biden’s lowest Fivethirtyeight estimate for any of them is 85% (Pennsylvania).
Back Biden to win the -100.5 Electoral College Handicaps at 2.1 (Betfair, Betfred)
To win this bet, Biden needs 320 electoral college votes. In addition to the above, I’m confident Biden will move to 279 by winning Nebraska’s 2nd District. After this things get harder. Arizona is the best chance. He’s consistently ahead there and, notably, the Democrats are even further ahead for the Senate race there. These 11 votes would take us within 30 of this target.
I make Biden a marginal favourite for North Carolina (15), Florida (29) and Maine-CD2 (1). Georgia (16) and Iowa (6) are toss-ups. Ohio (18) and Texas (30) lean Republican, but are equally not certain for Trump. Without risking anything on any in particular, I’m confident we can get the required 30 votes from this batch.
Back Biden to win 330-359 Electoral College Votes @ [5.5] (Betfair)
This for me is the likeliest band that Biden lands in. Per the above calculations, Biden winning Arizona, North Carolina and Florida results in 334. Add Maine-CD2, Georgia and Iowa and he’s on 356. Without winning either Ohio or Texas, Biden won’t go beyond 359.
Consequently, there are numerous permutations that land this bet. Once polls close, results start being reported and the betting goes live in-play, I expect the odds about this band to collapse as the market realises the likelihood of these outcomes.