Biden is the new front-runner but should we back him?

This piece was first written on 29th April 2019.

The 19th and most significant Democrat candidate to date has declared for 2020. Amid a blaze of publicity, Joe Biden launched his presidential campaign with a direct pitch for what opinion polls suggest over half the country want. Rather than policy specifics, the former VP declared his priority was simple – to rescue the country from Donald Trump.

Polls already favoured Biden and bookies immediately installed him as effectively joint-favourite alongside Bernie Sanders. Bethard’s offer of 15/4 for the nomination, and 17/2 for the presidency, are best on the High Street. But are either the polls or market a useful guide at this early stage?

Early polls are extremely unreliable

The last two opposition primaries produced wild political betting heats. At least half a dozen Republicans went favourite before Mitt Romney prevailed in 2012. In 2016, Jeb Bush dominated with early with the top political betting sites but failed to finish in the top-five. At this stage, Donald Trump was 33/1 and runner-up Ted Cruz over 100-1.

Early polls are unreliable because most candidates are barely known. Biden and Sanders have much greater name recognition than the likes of Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke or Pete Buttigieg. That will change once the TV debates start, imminently. If good enough, they will move up in the ranks.

Nevertheless, name recognition is a key advantage. The debates will likely be anarchic as lesser-known candidates desperately try to be noticed. Few will cut through and when the field whittles down around the turn of the year, the front-runners will be well-placed.

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