The United States’ presidential election determines who will land one of the most powerful jobs in the world, if the most powerful. With plenty of twists and turns guaranteed in every election, predicting the outcome may seem tough, but there are lots of ways to make a profit from US presidential election betting.
Before the race starts, there is profit potential in the candidate selection process: the primaries and caucuses in which party members elect delegates to vote for their favoured candidate. These contests receive lots of media attention, making it easy to track, and they're full of events for savvy political betting fans to take advantage of top betting sites.
Take the race to be the Republican candidate: the opening votes in Iowa and New Hampshire tend to bring underdogs to the fore, shaking up the campaign (and the odds) against the favourite. But, unlike the Democrats, Republican candidates then face the "firewall" of South Carolina. The state has served as a barrier to insurgent party members since it was conceived by Republican strategist Lee Atwater in 1980.
It ruined Bob Dole's campaign in '88 and it stopped McCain in '99, so this generally holds firm every four years. Knowing how these key events function is an excellent way to extract value from the fluctuating odds, but more valuable still is spotting when these trends don't hold, as was the case with Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich in 2012. Gutsy gamblers can make serious money by calling upsets like these.
The passion and pageantry that accompany the lengthy election process in the USA is alluring, but US presidential election betting is sometimes about cutting to the core of the issues to call a candidate early. For example, in the 2012 elections Obama was the early favourite to win and secure his second term, despite facing slumps in the polls and problems with the economy. Being able to see through those problems and avoid the allure of the underdog would have bagged favourable odds nice and early.
We can point to similar situations with the re-elections of George W. Bush in 2004, despite rising tensions over the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and of Bill Clinton overcoming the negative PR of the Lewinsky Scandal to win re-election in 2000. In 2016, Hillary Clinton was the outright favourite after the first debate, with an incredible probability of 91% that she would win the election. When Trump won, it was a massive upset for punters. Clinton retained a massive odds margin between her and Trump right up until the day of the vote.
While some gamblers see through campaign spin and media storms, others embrace them as opportunities in themselves. By engaging in arbitrage, shrewd gamblers can maximise the odds they get in any given situation. This means backing candidates while odds are long, and laying (betting against them) while they're short. So, for example, backing Obama while he's touted as pre-election favourite isn't ideal, but backing him after a negative poll would give much longer odds.
It's a risky strategy, but can land big profits. If your online gambling site gives you the option of cashing out your bets, you can even make a profit before the election is over. This is done by backing a solid candidate in a difficult period, when the odds are long, then cashing out when the storm has passed.
With a Donald Trump win at an extremely low implied probability, the majority of punters across the world felt that Hillary Clinton was a sure thing in the 2016 US presidential election. In August 2015, two months after announcing his candidacy, Donald Trump was just 25/1 to win the election, with this number dropping to 6/4 just ahead of the first presidential debate. Trump’s brash style of politics led the bookies to believe that the former host of The Apprentice was polarising and dividing his audience, when in fact, he was having the opposite effect.
A swathe of bets were placed on a safe Clinton win, with some bookies even paying out early due to Trump’s abysmal pre-election odds. The former Secretary of State stood at a whopping 91% just one day before the vote, while Trump’s odds had fallen to 9% from an only slightly better 23% just a week before. Trump’s win caused a massive upset at the bookies. The Clinton/Trump case is a prime example of why US presidential election betting has become so popular and is indicative of how unpredictable the market is.
Those of you who lean towards statistical modelling might want to look towards polling and election "issues" to call the trends. Blogger Nate Silver famously predicted the 2012 US election result with alarming accuracy. It prompted many to helpfully break down his approach, which, it's speculated, largely involved factoring local and national political issues into local voter polls – a sensible and systematic approach to finding a winner.
A less serious approach involves omens. For example, since 1980 the candidate who sold the most Halloween masks has always won the election. Or the strange connection between the Redskins and the presidency; apparently, if they win their last home game of the year during a presidential election, the party in power will stay in power. Either can form a basis for a profitable, and fun, betting strategy.
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