This article first appeared at gamblerspick.com on 7th July 2020
Exactly 17 weeks today, US voters head to the polls for what appears, right now, to be their most one-sided election of the 21st century. The Economist/Yougov rate Joe Biden 90% likely to win, compared to a meagre 10% for Donald Trump.
Betting signals, however, remain far less clear. Betfair’s current odds imply their respective chances at 56% and 37%.
There are countless potential reasons for the differential but the most obvious regards trajectory. A July poll is a mere snapshot of opinion, ahead of an intense campaign during which much can change. As we are frequently reminded, polls can be wrong and there is a long time to go. Remember 2016.
It is indeed important to remember the previous election – both as a guide to the fallibility of betting signals but also in order to avoid drawing false comparisons. The situations differ in at least six respects.
Biden leads by much wider margins than Clinton
Yes, Clinton led the polls but her position was never this strong. Using the RCP average, Biden currently leads by 8.7%, compared to 4.0% for Clinton during July 2016. In 25 polls that month, her highest tally was 46%. In 21 since the beginning of June, Biden hasn’t polled below 47% and hit 52% better in a trio of A-rated surveys last week.
Note too that, contrary to popular myth, the 2016 polls weren’t so far out. The final RCP average showed Clinton ahead by 3.3%, as opposed to the eventual 2.1% popular vote margin.
No strong third party challenge has materialised yet
One reason pundits were blindsided by the polls was extra parties polling much better than usual. Those ordinary Clinton tallies seemed high enough. As it transpired, whilst Gary Johnson, Jill Stein and Evan McMullen did take a much higher, gamechanging share than minor parties usually do, they fell back in the latter stages. Critically, late deciders swung for Trump.
In theory, a challenge could yet emerge and split the non-Trump vote. Kanye West just announced his bid on Twitter. Given that he’s already missed several ballot deadlines, though, it is hard to treat seriously. Until a third candidate starts polling significantly, we should assume they won’t.
Clinton was a weak, damaged candidate
Trump and Clinton were the two least popular candidates ever. He always had negative approval ratings. Hers turned sour during more than a year under FBI investigation for an over-amplified e-mail scandal. She was a damaged figure, already toxic to Republicans who’d spent a quarter of a century investigating her.
Clinton conspiracy theories were deep in the US psyche long before Russia and Wikileaks got involved. Despite at least most of their claims being false, they carried enough of a ring of truth for those who wanted to believe.
Trump’s mud isn’t sticking to Biden
The same cannot be said of Joe Biden. Rather in 2015 following the death of his son, Beau, ‘Uncle Joe’ was America’s most popular politician – VP to a president who left with very high approval ratings.
Plenty has been thrown at him already – ‘Creepy Joe’, Tara Reade, allegations about his son, Hunter. Trump was literally impeached for cooking up a smear campaign in Ukraine and may well have another ‘October Surprise’ lined up.
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