Betting odds favor Bush

In the 1980s, I was attending a panel at an annual meeting of the American Association for Public Opinion Research when a discussion of pre-election poll releases erupted.

Some participants urged that the public be given several trial-heat numbers: for the whole sample, for likely voters, for most likely voters, etc. One notable attendee, the now-deceased Burns Roper, skeptically and even grumpily dismissed this proposal as likely to cause confusion and branded it an attempt by pollsters to avoid accountability for a single “prediction” of the election outcome.
In the 1980s, I was attending a panel at an annual meeting of the American Association for Public Opinion Research when a discussion of pre-election poll releases erupted.

Some participants urged that the public be given several trial-heat numbers: for the whole sample, for likely voters, for most likely voters, etc. One notable attendee, the now-deceased Burns Roper, skeptically and even grumpily dismissed this proposal as likely to cause confusion and branded it an attempt by pollsters to avoid accountability for a single “prediction” of the election outcome.

Because of personal and professional respect for this son of the founder of the once-esteemed Roper Poll, objections to Burns’s argument were merely murmurs. But the attendant intelligentsia was in unison silently chanting the familiar pollster mantra that “a poll is not a prediction but rather just a snapshot of opinions at one point in time.” While my own thoughts probably joined that hushed chorus, I could not help but admire the boldness of Roper’s challenge to the group: “Show us your number, boy, and let us see what you’ve got.”

The nervy Roper might have admired the comparably bold folks at Ladbrokes, the famed British odds maker, for putting their money where their mouth is. Ladbrokes is taking bets at www.ladbrokes.com on the presidential election.

Yesterday morning, the betting Brits had set the odds for Bush at 4-7 and the odds for Kerry at 5-4. That would mean that if you wagered $100 on each candidate, you would win $157 and some change if Bush wins and $225 if Kerry wins.

The old-line Ladbrokes is not the only odds maker offering wagers on the presidential election. Others around the world offer wagering opportunities on the election and related outcomes, including Electoral College vote, popular vote, turnout and even the outcomes of some selected battleground states. For example, for the battleground state of Florida, Britain’s Blue Square Betting (bluesq.com) was offering 8-15 odds on Bush and 11-8 odds on Kerry yesterday.

Ladbrokes believes that almost $10 million has been wagered on the presidential contest through these offshore operations.

One Costa Rica-based bookmaker, betcom.com, issued a release after the last debate reporting that money was pouring in on Bush despite the media-led notion that Kerry had won the last debate and thereby swept the set of three. Betcom CEO Mike Nichols commented on a most important pattern he is seeing: “This race is extremely tight, highly competitive, and could turn on a dime. But oddly, Kerry seems to have little betting momentum.”

Nichols went on to say that, after the last debate, “we have seen nothing but big money coming in on Bush, even from the states that are predominantly Democratic.”

This may be the most revealing evidence yet that Kerry has a problem with his base vote. Democrats are not just voting for Bush, they are betting against Kerry. And that could be significant when one considers that most gamblers are Democrats. A recent study for Harrah’s found that 80 percent of casino gamblers say they “definitely will vote” in November. A plurality of those gamblers, 34 percent, described their views as “mostly Democratic.” But their money is going the other way.

Kerry’s call for an “international test” of his policies is haunting, too, when you consider that non-Americans are also betting against Kerry. Ladbrokes reported that a Canadian businessman wagered $110,000 on Bush back in July. The Toronto Star hints that conservative and controversial media mogul Conrad Black was the mystery man who placed that bet. If that anonymous bet pays off, Black or whoever will pocket $80,000 plus his original wager. That possibility should have some of Ladbrokes’s British executives rooting for Kerry and shoring up his international standing, if only to save their own shirts.

If betting on Bush isn’t enough to tweak your fancy, bet365.com is already offering odds of 4.5-1 on Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s (Tenn.) being the Republican nominee in 2008.

Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.