How Accurate Are Betting Odds on Presidential Elections?

In the summer of 2016, American bookmakers made a fortune on political betting as millions of people placed bets on the outcomes of the presidential election. After months of Trump vs. Hillary debates, sportsbooks finally got their wish as Americans went to the polls and elected the real estate mogul as the 45th President of the United States. While there’s no denying that America loves a winner and will always place their bets on the favourite, can we really trust these odds?

To find out, we need to look at the historical data and find out how accurate these odds are in reality.

Odds Are Accurate In The Past

If you’re a regular reader of ours, you’ll know that we’ve covered this topic at length. Back in the summer of 2016, before the first votes were counted, the lines were firmly in favour of Hillary Clinton as virtually all sportsbooks had her as the favourite. The New York Times even went so far as to call Clinton America’s pick to become the first woman president. The only problem was that these odds weren’t reflective of the reality of the situation — at least not yet.

The only way to understand the true odds in this situation is to look at the historical data. Fortunately for us, statistics on betting odds are available from the online bookmaker BetOnline, who publish a weekly report on the odds in the major American sports including football, basketball, and baseball. The data goes back to 2004 and lets us track the accuracy of sports betting odds over time.

The Overall Trend

Looking at the data over the past 12 years, we can see that despite some fluctuations, the odds generally track the outcome of the election fairly well. For instance, in 2004, the election was too close to call and the odds were favouring John Kerry as he started with 35/1 odds. However, as the election drew closer and closer, the odds started changing. By the time the votes were counted, Donald Trump had actually become the favourite with 45/1 odds (from 35/1) — a big change in just two weeks!

Similarly, in 2008 and 2012, the odds favoured Barack Obama but it was Hillary Clinton who ended up winning both elections. In fact, looking only at the last three presidential elections, Clinton has now emerged as the favourite in every one of them. Can we really say that the odds always predict the winner? Well, not exactly. 2012 and 2008 were both very close elections, with very little difference in the popular vote (Obama won by a margin of a few hundred thousand votes in 2008). But it’s striking how accurately the odds have been able to predict the winner in the last three elections.

The Trend In The Last Three Elections

To follow up on the previous point, let’s take a moment to examine how the odds performed in the last three presidential elections. In 2012, the odds were very much in favour of Obama winning but the reality was far from it. The popular vote winner was actually Republican Mitt Romney with 50.1% of the votes to Obama’s 49.9%. However, the reality of the situation was closer than the popular vote would have you believe. It was in fact the third-largest election turnout in history after China and India broke their own records with over 100 million voters turning out for the first time ever! So while the odds didn’t reflect the closeness of the race, they still managed to get it right in the end.

In 2016, the odds were once again in favour of Clinton but, as mentioned earlier, this was largely due to the betting public’s insatiable need for a Trump fix. The reality of the situation was very different with Clinton winning the popular vote by a margin of over 2.8 million votes (2.9 million votes to Trump’s 2.7 million). Even crazier is the fact that had all the votes been cast today, Clinton would have still comfortably won the election in a landslide.

Final Takeaway

With all the chaos surrounding the 2020 election and the world’s obsession with the latest COVID-19 news, it’s easy to understand why bettors might be looking for a way to take a break from the stressors of everyday life and inject a little excitement into their football and sport betting experiences. While it might be fun to try our luck at making some wagers on the upcoming election, it’s important to keep in mind that not all odds are created equal. In many cases, the bookmakers know that the odds are heavily skewed in their favour and hence, are completely unreliable. Even if you’re reading this article during the height of the pandemic, you might be tempted to try and bet on politics but keep in mind that the odds are generally heavily in favour of the incumbent party. While it’s fun to think that you might be able to beat the odds and come out on top, it would be unwise to bet on politics during these volatile times. Finally, if you’re looking for a way to have some fun and excitement during these challenging times and feel that betting on politics is the way to go, then it’s important to remember that winning, as we mentioned earlier, doesn’t mean that the odds will necessarily reflect that. After all, it’s the job of the bookmakers to make as much money as they can off all of our political ignorance.