We always knew this election campaign would be dramatic. That’s just how politics is during the Trump era. We expected an October Surprise. However I didn’t hear anyone predict that the president himself would be hospitalised with coronavirus and virtually the entire government become infected.
Last weekend was surreal. The betting was suspended, out of sensitivity. The news became a bewildering barrage of contradictory timelines, straight-up lies, Trump grabbing the world’s attention at will with videos from his hospital and then an extraordinary joy ride to greet his fans.
As with all Trump matters, voters will be deeply split regarding the wisdom, morality, truthfulness or competence of the administration. The question is whether it makes Trump more or less likely to be re-elected. Or is there still a chance that Trump won’t even be the candidate?
Biden’s position is stronger than ever and improving
On the evidence available, the answer to the first is not. Joe Biden was recently matched at his lowest odds yet on Betfair. He’s rated 66% likely to win at odds of 1.52, compared to 3.0 (33%) for Trump.
That still significantly under-rates Biden compared to polls. His projected 83% chance according to fivethirtyeight.com equates to odds of 1.2. In the past 48 hours we’ve seen reputable surveys recording a massive lead between 12 and 16%.
The message from state polls also says he is almost certain to win and may very well do by a landslide margin. Trump is losing the probably decisive trio of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by big, rising margins.
Debate anarchy prompts substantial gamble
A substantial gamble started during and following the first debate. Not only was Biden widely judged a clear winner but Trump’s anarchic performance took the headlines. His constant spoiling tactics - interruptions, lies, arguing with the moderator - prompted calls for new debate rules, such as a mute button.
He refused to condemn white supremacists, calling on the fascist ‘Proud Boys’ to ‘stand back and stand by’. He refused to commit to accepting the election result and predictably railed about conspiracy theories of voter fraud. An insane tactic that will alienate and even terrify all bar his most fanatical supporters. Focus groups were absolutely scathing.
Catching Covid actually improved Trump’s news cycle!
Just as we were consuming that grim post-mortem, several other scandals broke. Too many to list here. That’s just how politics is during the Trump era. By the end of Thursday night, the news that he’d contracted Covid broke.
From that perspective, one could say events worked to his advantage. Trump was in freefall last Thursday. He may still be. The way he handled it, and the way he’s governed, drastically reduces any sympathy vote. But at least the conversation has changed and he has a new narrative.
That story says Trump is a strong leader who has defied polls, pundits, impeachment, the Mueller investigation and now a pandemic. The conspiracy world, as ever firmly behind Trump, are pushing theories of his super-human, even shapeshifting abilities.
Some people definitely believe that. Others say he has been criminally reckless and spread Covid disinformation. That the episode perfectly demonstrated his narcissism and disregard for others. They will condemn his implication that Covid victims were simply weak as social darwinism.
New narrative unlikely to alter entrenched opinions
Over the next week or so, I expect polls will confirm that Trump is massively on the wrong side of public opinion. On Covid, white supremacy, election integrity, healthcare, social security. Most critically, temperament and personality. He won’t try to reinvent himself. The car crash campaign will continue.
He says he is determined to make the next TV debate. If so, I think this will go worse than the first. He is totally unsuited to the Town Hall format, where candidates talk directly with the audience. Whereas Biden performed very well in this format recently.
Even if health holds up, is this campaign sustainable? Trump watches TV all day. He must know how badly he’s doing. Republicans know how badly he’s hurting them in Senate races. They are looking at a historic beating with profound, perhaps existential, implications.
Both Trump and GOP have incentive for Pence switch
When first learning he had Covid, my gut reaction was that this had either been engineered, or could be used to justify, Trump walking away. That might save the GOP from such disaster and,
as explained months ago, his vast legal problems mean it could make sense to resign, handing over the presidency to Mike Pence in exchange for the necessary pardons.
The number of infections is too big to be a conspiracy and, if it were, they wouldn’t have managed the situation so chaotically. It has, however, created an opening for
his Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment, should they wish.
I doubt they will, but it is a factor worth considering alongside those pardon incentives. If Trump knows he’s facing a landslide defeat - too big to challenge - will he stay and face the humiliation or save his own skin? Right now, he still believes he’ll win but reality could dawn at any moment. I doubt many around him truly do believe this race is competitive.
Good value about big Biden wins still available
In fact, the race looks extremely one-sided. Biden needs 270 electoral college votes to win. By my reckoning, 290 are already in the ‘likely Democrat’ column. I reach that total by calculating that he will retain all the states won by Clinton, then at least add Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Nebraska’s second district.
That still leaves at least a further 123 in play. 29 ECVs in Florida, North Carolina (15), Ohio (18), Iowa (6), Georgia (16), Texas (38) and Maine’s second district (1) are certainly competitive. Winning all of them would take Biden up to 413. A big ask, but possible.
Indeed the odds about such massive wins in the electoral college are falling fast. 420 plus is now a [9.0] chance on Betfair. Combining the three bands from 360 upwards pays around [2.7].
There’s no need to make such ambitious bets. I much prefer backing Biden outright at [1.55] (the wrong odds, as illustrated by these higher targets) or via one of the electoral college handicaps. For example, [1.85] on Betfair’s -63.5 line. To beat that, Biden needs 301. Merely 11 more than the 290 I’m already putting in his column, so adding any one of five states would get him there.
Back Joe Biden to win the 63.5 Electoral College Handicap @ 1.85 (Betfair)