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

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.Both the IEM and PredictIt offer markets in who will be the GOP and Democratic presidential nominees. IEM has a market in which party will win the 2016 election as well as one in which you can bet on how the parties will share the popular vote. As of March 11, it was Democrats, about 55 percent, leading Republicans, 45 percent.

The IEM also has a market on who will control Congress (“Republican House, Democratic Senate” is leading).

PredictIt also has bets on upcoming party primaries, including Ohio (Kasich beating Trump, Clinton beating Sanders) and Illinois (Trump trouncing Cruz, Clinton trouncing Sanders) as well as topics such as whether the GOP will have a brokered convention (No is beating Yes) and will Marco Rubio drop out by March 18 (Yes is beating No).

More sites at which to garner predictions

  • Election Betting Odds: Run by Fox Business reporter John Stossel and his producer, Maxim Lott, Election Betting Odds features odds derived from an exchange, Betfair.com, which does not accept American traders due to regulations. It recently showed Clinton with a 64 percent probability of winning the White House and Trump with a 19 percent chance.
  • FiveThirtyEight: This site is run by Nate Silver, known for calling the results in 49 out of 50 states in 2008 and all 50 states in 2012, FiveThirtyEight is predicting outcomes from primaries and caucuses based on data from polls and endorsements.
  • PredictWise: Run by David Rothschild, an economist at Microsoft Research in New York City, PredictWise aggregates data on politics as well as sports, finance and entertainment. The site says it is does not favor gambling. It does indicate the Democratic nominee has a 69 percent chance of winning the White House compared with the Republican candidate’s 31 percent chance of winning. It also predicts Clinton will be the Democratic nominee by a better than 9-1 ratio over Sanders, and that Trump has a 76 percent probability of winning the GOP nomination.
  • Pinnacle Sports: At the Curacao-licensed online betting site, Clinton has the best odds.
  • Paddy Power: An online gambling site that mainly features sports, Paddy Power takes bets (not from the United States) on U.S. politics, too. It has Clinton as favored to win; Trump has the second-best odds.
  • Predictious: Established after the demise of Intrade, Ireland-based Predictious exchange allows you to buy and sell contracts using Bitcoins, the virtual currency.

Despite all these predictions, they could be dead wrong, Johnson points out.

Ahead of the March 1 Super Tuesday elections, PredictIt bettors and PredictWise said Trump would win 10 of 11 states and would lose only to Ted Cruz in Cruz’s home state, Texas. Cruz did win in Texas, but he also took Oklahoma and Alaska while Rubio won Minnesota; Trump won in seven states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia.

So, while you might want to get a handle on the odds for your favorite candidate — and bettors can help — in the voting booth, you need to weigh that with your political convictions.

“You need to do your own research, pick your own candidate and then back that candidate with your vote, no matter what gamblers, polls or pundits say,” he said.

If you were betting on the election, where would you put your money? Does that pick line up with your politics? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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