US politics might be a two-party system, but that doesn't mean betting on the winning party is a simple process. From the moment candidates throw their hat in the ring, the contest becomes an assault course of acid tests, spin and aggressive political debate. Knowing when to bet to bag the best odds, and when the favourites might fall, is crucial to US winning party betting.
Before the parties gear up for the election, there's the small matter of choosing their candidates. This process happens in a series of 2 primaries (Republican and Democratic) and numerous caucuses in which members of each of the parties vote for their preferred presidential candidate, who then wins delegates in the state via a proportional or winner-takes-all system.
Not only do these provide interesting US election betting markets of their own, they provide useful data. For example, divisions in a party at this stage may not bode well for the full election campaign – or a foregone conclusion may mean a party's political machine is stale and lacking innovation, which means a lacklustre fight for the presidency.
In a two-horse race like US winning party betting, you're never likely to get huge odds on a victory unless the race is nearly over, in which case you'll be flogging a dead horse. So the question is really how to achieve the highest possible odds without waiting until the outsider is already the loser.
Backing a candidate early is one way to ensure odds of close to evens because, whatever punditry is being touted in the papers, there are no certainties until the immediate build-up to the elections. As notorious US election sage Nate Silver states in a critique of one such piece of punditry:
"On the eve of an election... it is possible to make relatively bold and precise forecasts about the outcome. But none of this applies three and a half years in advance."
Does this mean we can't make a profit out of the predictions and pageantry that accompany the elections? It doesn't seem so.
Hedging and arbitrage can help gamblers capitalise on swings in sentiment. For example, if you've decided that the US electorate are sick of the Democrats and you're just waiting for the right odds, the time to pounce is during a Republican setback. Because the money will be moving to the Democrats, the Grand Old Party will have longer odds.
Political betting sites that allow punters to cash out their bets early are also valuable here, because there may be instances when swings are so sizable that you can cash in bets early for a profit.
However you approach this tactic, one thing is clear: you need to follow and even predict events in order to get your timing right.
Some political trends, however, don't require close monitoring of the political situation. For example, political journalist and Bloomberg contributor Megan McArdle argues that the White House "flips back and forth like a metronome" [because] "voters just get tired after eight years".
Her argument hinges on the fact that, since World War II, only one president left office at the appointed time after eight years in office, and was succeeded by another member of his party: Ronald Reagan. So, she says, history tells us that Democrat fatigue will give the Republicans the edge in 2016.
Other interesting, though far from guaranteed, predictors include the bizarre rule that whichever candidate sells the most masks at Halloween will triumph, and the regularity with which rare flip-flop county Vigo, Indiana seems to pick a winner.
These kind of historical trends and quirks are useful if you don't want to get bogged down in the serious statistical analyses that make mathematically minded pundits like Nate Silver so successful.
There are also lots of other US presidential election betting markets that can help you capitalise on your predictions for the biggest event in global politics. For example, opting to bet on the next US president, rather than their party, offers much higher odds. Or you can back the gender of the next president, useful if you're betting early and can't decide if Hilary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren will lead the Democrat line.
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