Can you Pick the 2016 Election Winners Without TV Analysts? Here’s a Better Bet

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Gamblers who put their money on the line tend to be more accurate than pollsters and pundits. You'll be surprised at what they're saying about Trump and Clinton.

If you want a quick glimpse at who’s likeliest to be our next president, don’t listen to pollsters and pundits. Follow the money.

We don’t mean the big bucks of super PACs or even the millions from small-money donors.

We’re talking about real money people who wager on election outcomes. It turns out that the collective wisdom of bettors has a better record of predicting winners than the talking heads.

One place that bettors congregate online is the Iowa Electronic Markets, or the IEM, at the University of Iowa.

“If you look at polls run during the election, in about 75 percent of the cases, Iowa’s market prices predict the outcome of elections better than the polls,” says Joyce Berg, a University of Iowa accounting professor who oversees the IEM.

Frederick Boehmke, University of Iowa political science professor and faculty adviser to the Hawkeye Poll, recently explained why to the Quad City Times newspaper.

“A poll asks a person’s preference, what they want to happen,” Boehmke said. People investing in the IEM, however, “are trying to make money, so they pick the candidate or party they think will win. They typically set aside personal preferences to make money.”

Also, a poll is a snapshot at a moment in time, Boehmke said. The market “is about who will win in the end.”

The IEM and another exchange, PredictIt, which is set up in Washington, D.C., under the auspices of Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, say the predictions work because the “wisdom of crowds” aggregates the expectations of thousands of bettors who have skin in the game.

A now-defunct exchange called Intrade in 2012 “predicted” the electoral outcome in 49 of the 50 states.

People who put up real money are more likely to consider all the available information than people who just offer their opinions, says Money Talks News financial expert Stacy Johnson.

That information could include economic and business conditions, stock market performance, inflation and employment rates as well as other factors that could sway voters’ moods. Once invested in the outcome, bettors follow campaigns closely. As on a stock exchange and similar to fantasy sports leagues, bettors can make or lose money buying and selling their shares in the outcomes in which they invested.

You can get in on the action.

How it works

In exchanges, bettors actually are traders who buy and sell real-money contracts based on their beliefs about “yes or no” election outcomes. Unlike a casino sports book, the exchange does not set odds. The prices reflect the probabilities of various candidate winning a given political race.

PredictIt explains it this way:

You make predictions on future events by buying shares in an outcome, Yes or No. Each outcome has a probability between 1 and 99 percent, which is converted into U.S. cents.

“For example, Trader A thinks an event has at least a 60 percent chance of taking place so she offers 60 cents for a Yes share. PredictIt matches her offer with that of Trader B, who is willing to pay 40 cents for a No share. Each trader now owns a share in the market for this event on opposite sides. … If an event does take place, all Yes shares are redeemed at $1. Shares in No become worthless. If the event does not take place before the market closes, traders holding shares in No will be paid $1, while Yes shares will be worthless.

At the IEM, you can open an account for $5 to $200.

If you just want to look, check who’s leading the popular bets.

Popular bets

For the moment, according to the exchanges and other betting venues, the odds-on favorite is Hillary Clinton. That doesn’t mean bettors favor Hillary’s politics over those of Bernie Sanders, her rival for the Democratic nomination, or Republican front-runner Donald Trump. It just means they bet she wins. The likelihood of a Trump presidency, according to bettors, is less than 20 percent.

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