Are Political Betting Odds More Accurate Than The Polls?

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Election day is only four days away, and as Americans vote, people in other parts of the world are betting on who they think will win the White House. While election betting is illegal in the US, this is not the case in the UK, where the sector is seen increased demand. Indeed, their staples, horse racing and soccer, have been overtaken in popularity by betting on politics.

Joe Lee, Head of Political Betting at Paddy Power, one of the largest bookmakers in the UK and Ireland, spoke to the BBC’s Victoria Craig about the global edition of the Marketplace Morning Report. Below is an edited version of their conversation.

Joe Lee: It’s safe to say that there is only one candidate people are interested in and that is Donald Trump. So about 8 out of 10 bets we made in the past two months were on Donald Trump. Four years ago, Donald Trump apparently overturned Hillary Clinton in the US election and people remember, they remember the payouts they had and they are happy to leave.

Victoria Craig: So how accurate is an indicator if we compare it, for example, with the results of other elections here in the UK? Is It More Reliable Than Surveys?

Lee: In 2016 you had Donald Trump in the US election, you had Brexit and then you had [turnout] for Theresa May in the UK general election she called. And essentially there were three high profile scenarios that all went against the polls. If you look at and question the 650 constituencies in the UK General Election, in all likelihood more than 90% of them would be correct. We only got outliers, but very well-known outliers that shaped people’s minds about the difficulty with surveys.

Craig: And it’s not just about who will win the White House this year. What are some of the most popular bets people have placed so far?

Lee: Great interest in the various federal states. Florida has currently swung back in favor of Donald Trump. And I think there’s some evidence from Florida that in the face of the pandemic, a lot of people have switched to the postal voting route, and the Florida numbers suggest that the Democrats are not that far ahead of the Republicans. And of course, I would suggest that the Republicans win the personal vote that day by a large margin.

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