I would like to think that I am not the only person out there who was completely oblivious to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. For those of you who are unaware, on November 8th, 2016, voters in Nevada and American Samoa bucked expectations and delivered a stunning victory to Donald Trump, who ran on a platform of bringing back “real America.” One would assume that given this result, there would be a significant surge of wagers on President-elect Trump in the Las Vegas sportsbooks. However, upon closer inspection, one would find that Trump’s odds of winning were extremely underwhelming, especially given the historical context of this particular election. Before we get to the numbers, let’s examine the unique dynamics of the 2016 election in Nevada and American Samoa.
The Silver State Was Overlooked
Although Nevada was one of the earlier primary states, voting in the Mountain and Desert States primaries began later than in other regions. For whatever reason, Nevada was almost completely ignored by the media during the 2016 presidential election. With just three major news outlets based in the state, covering the election from a neutral perspective was nigh impossible. As a result, Nevada was almost entirely left on its own, and it didn’t seem to mind.
With very little media attention and no clear indication as to who might win, it’s not all that shocking that Trump’s odds of winning in Nevada were extremely poor. According to figures compiled by OddsShark, just two days before the election, Hillary Clinton had a 5:1 odds of winning the state. These odds were still poor on election day, but at least somewhat more in line with reality. On the day of the election, Clinton’s odds changed little, registering 6:1, and it was basically a formality at that point that she would win Nevada. In the end, Clinton triumphed in Nevada by a 2.9% margin, becoming the first woman to secure the presidency without being born in the state.
The Friendly City
Like Nevada, American Samoa was also an overlooked state during the 2016 election. The territory of American Samoa is located in the South Pacific Ocean, and it consists of four islands: Tutuila, Manuae, Itoi, and Apia. The territory is essentially made up of one big island, with a few smaller ones sprinkled in. The biggest of these islets is called “Savai’i,” which is where most of the population lives. Like Nevada, American Samoa was also ignored by the mainstream media, with just one news outlet based in the territory covering the 2016 election. There were, however, dozens of blogs and websites that focused on the Presidential race, although the majority were located outside of the United States. It seems that even the smallest island communities in American Samoa had a vested interest in seeing Donald Trump become President.
For whatever reason, American Samoa was the perfect staging ground for Trump’s campaign. The billionaire’s odds of winning the territory were very poor, starting at just 28:1 and only improving marginally before the election. These poor odds helped set the stage for an upset victory in American Samoa, with Trump winning the territory by a 4.9% margin. This was a surprising result, given that Clinton had been widely expected to win this territory as well. Indeed, Clinton won the popular vote in American Samoa, but it was Trump who managed to secure the victory on election day, when he defeated Clinton 50.9% to 43.8%.
Virtually all of the betting activity in the United States and internationally regarding the 2016 election was based on pre-election polls and prognosticators’ picks. These types of odds-makers generally have a fairly good idea of whom the public is favoring and for what reasons. What they don’t take into account is the unique circumstances of the 2016 election, which include the fact that both candidates are polarizing figures who managed to engage with their supporters, as well as the electorate at large. For whatever reason, the polls and prognosticators seem to have missed the mark in this case, as the public was able to discover the political undertones of the 2016 election hidden in plain sight.
An Ode to Overconfidence
There are numerous reasons why both the Nevada and American Samoa results were so surprising, but the main one has to do with overconfidence on the part of the betting community. For whatever reason, given the historical context of the 2016 election and the fact that the demographics in both states are heavily weighted toward older generations, the betting community seemed to believe that Clinton was almost certain to win. One would assume that given this level of confidence, there would be significant action being taken on the part of the sportsbooks in Las Vegas and elsewhere.
This was certainly the case internationally, where the lay public went to great lengths to place bets on Trump. For example, the United Kingdom saw a 265% increase in bets on Trump, while France saw a 226% increase and Australia saw a 208% increase. In Asia, there were also significant bets placed on Trump, with the Philippines, Indonesia, and Singapore all offering odds of 5:1 or more about the New York businessman. Trump’s odds of winning in Nevada and American Samoa improved by a small margin as the election drew nearer, but for whatever reason, nothing significant seemed to change in the final days or hours before election day. This lack of discipline on the part of the sportsbooks was undoubtedly responsible for their underestimation of Trump’s victory in Nevada and American Samoa. The opposite could be said for politics and betting in general, as the 2016 election proved once and for all that no one should ever put too much confidence in pre-election polling or electoral mathematics.