Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Great Horse Race

From the National Affairs Desk
a few thoughts on bookies and polls

The big story so far in this year's election season has been how shamefully wrong the polls and pundits have been in calling the early primaries. I've never given much credence to the polls or the talking heads, when I want an opinion on what the future holds I turn to people who back their prognostications with cold hard cash, i.e. bookies. Chris Matthews and people of his ilk will continue to get paid no matter how inaccurate their predictions might be, but bookies pay big time if they're wrong. Economists will tell you that the prediction markets tend to be more accurate than polls. Just look at McCain, seemingly dead in the water 6 months ago, he's now the front runner to win the GOP nomination. This came as no surprise to the odds makers who've been predicting a McCain-Clinton match up since 2004.
With this in mind let's look at the odds to your left. Hillary's running at 6-5, or 1.2-1; almost even money. Now, compare her odds to the New York Giants' odds of winning the Super Bowl. The current money line on the Giants is +340, which means that a $100 bet pays $340. That translates to 3.4 to 1 odds, which means that the Giants have a worse shot of winning than Hillary. I find this both funny and perplexing. There are only two possible outcomes for the Super Bowl, while the election is much more wide open. Hillary first has to beat two contenders in the primary then take on one of five yet to be determined candidates in the GOP race. So are the Giants that bad or is Hillary that good?
The other fact I find confounding is that Al Gore has better odds than any Republican other than McCain. At this point it seems incredibly unlikely that Al Gore could win the nomination so he would almost certainly have to bank on an independent bid. Do the bookies know something that the media doesn't or are these odds simply a reflection of a weak field of candidates? Bloomberg's equally high odds surprise me but are less confusing, one can imagine a scenario in which the nominations are so polarizing (I'm thinking Huckabee/Hillary) that an independent could run up the middle and win, but even that seems like more than a 5-1 shot. I certainly wouldn't offer those odds.
My odds look like this:
Clinton 3-2
McCain 2-1
Obama 3-1
The Field 10-1
Here's my explanation, I don't like Obama's chances to win the Democrat nod at this point, but Super Tuesday can still change that, so it's hard for me to put him above McCain since he might not even break to the finals. Clinton has to be first since right now it feels like the Dems will win in November unless George Bush personally captures Bin Laden, we win the war (somehow), and everyone forgives the GOP after they get their tax rebates. McCain is the only Republican that I can see standing a chance in the general election or picking up any independents, so any other Republican seems to be non-factor. Which brings me to the field (gambling term for anyone else). I don't take any independent candidate seriously, not in our system, and I'm surprised the bookies do. Finally, I cross Al Gore and any Republican off my list for the above mentioned reasons. Right now I feel the same way about the presidential race as I do about the Super Bowl, I'm just pissed that someone has to win it.

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