Democrat VP Betting: Can we trust the Kamala gamble?

This article first appeared at on 4th August 2020

According to the Washington Post, Joe Biden will announce his running mate at the end of next week, just ahead of the Democrat Convention. Given that a decision was originally expected by the start of August, it seems his choice remains far from certain. That uncertainty is reflected by the volatility in Betfair’s Democrat VP Candidate market.

Last week was crazy, involving all sorts of media speculation and the odds about all the leading candidates fluctuating wildly.

Long-time favourite Kamala Harris crashed into odds-on, matched down to [1.61] after Biden was pictured holding briefing notes about his former primary rival. She then drifted out beyond [2.5] upon realisation that the notes could be interpreted differently, but is back into [2.0] today – equivalent to a 50% chance.

The most exciting VP race ever?

This really has been a cracking market, packed with uncertainty and betting drama. Consider the trio rated closest to Harris. Susan Rice was matched earlier at [350.0], Karen Bass at [200.0] and Tammy Duckworth [120.0]. Both Rice and Bass traded below [4.0] last week.

The process has been nothing like recent Democrat VP races. In 2016, Tim Kaine was always ranked top-three in betting terms, as were Joe Biden in 2008 and John Edwards in 2004. 2000 was before Betfair’s inception but I’m pretty sure Joe Lieberman would have been prominent. Outsiders have won for Republicans though – both Mike Pence and Sarah Palin were big upsets.

How reliable are these market signals?

The thought process here is very different from most political markets. We aren’t gauging public opinion, or even party members, but the decisions of one person, who isn’t likely to give away too many public clues. We are guessing to a large extent and dependent on mainstream media articles.

That isn’t to say the market lacks knowledge, or an inside track. The weight of money behind Bass and Duckworth was unpredictable, significant and ultimately correct. Dream trades.

Nevertheless, I remain sceptical of the Harris gamble and reckon her market status owes something to name recognition. There is evidently a lobby against her, as revealed by multiple press briefings.

Debate attacks could yet haunt Harris

The principal charge is that ambition would make her a rival for the presidency. Manifested by her personal assault on Biden’s historic record on segregated bussing during an early primary debate. Her campaign had T-shirts made to celebrate the incident. It did her no good. Harris didn’t even make the opening Iowa Caucus.

Moreover it angered many people around Biden, including family members of his campaign team. Her lack of remorse during a meeting with Biden ally Chris Dodd did not heal those wounds.

The infamous briefing notes said of Harris ‘do not hold grudges’, ‘talented’ and ‘she’s been a great help’, but they could just as easily apply in a different context. For example one where she was made Attorney General, instead of VP.

Harris carries greater risk than rivals

For me, this is a bigger negative than could be made for any of the other main contenders. Even if it doesn’t divide Democrats, the footage of that debate is ideal material for Trump’s social media and meme machine. They will portray Harris as a disloyal, over-ambitious, over-political left-wing prosecutor.

Why take such a risk when, whatever her qualities, there is no evidence of her improving the ticket electorally, either via polls or any electoral college effect?

If we are betting on instinct rather than insider knowledge, odds-on about Harris just doesn’t ‘feel’ right. If Biden has indeed delayed his decision, surely that is bad for somebody who has been high on the shortlist from day one?

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