Political pollsters are like weathermen — they can completely blow the forecast and never get fired.
That’s what nearly all of the pollsters did in 2016. The overwhelming consensus was that Hillary Clinton would crush Donald Trump in the election.
For instance, on Election Day 2016, at 10:41 a.m., wunderkind pollster Nate Silver posted a story on his website FiveThirtyEight. “Final Election Update: There’s A Wide Range Of Outcomes, And Most Of Them Come Up Clinton,” said his headline.
Mr. Silver said his “forecast has Clinton favored in states and congressional districts totaling 323 electoral votes, including all the states President Obama won in 2012 except Ohio and Iowa, but adding North Carolina.” He hedged his bet a bit, though, saying Mrs. Clinton could lose North Carolina or Florida, so “the average number of electoral votes we forecast for Clinton is 302.”
In the end, Mrs. Clinton got walloped in the Electoral College, 304-227.
So, forget the pollsters. They’re all saying much the same thing this time around, but like the weathermen who blew last weekend’s forecast, is anyone still listening to them?
But bookies put their money where their mouths are. While they won’t lose their job if they blow the call, they could lose millions. So the question is: How did they do in 2016?
The answer: Not well.
One bookie, Paddy Power, was so confident that Mrs. Clinton would win that it actually paid out on all bets placed on her more than two weeks before the U.S. election.
“With national polls showing a healthy lead for the Democratic candidate and Donald Trump’s campaign running into scandal after scandal, Paddy Power believes it’s a done deal and that Hillary is a nailed-on certainty to occupy the Oval Office,” Gambling.com reported Oct. 26, 2016.
“Trump gave it a hell of a shot going from a rank outsider to the Republican candidate, but the recent flood of revelations have halted his momentum and his chances now look as patchy as his tan,” the bookmaker said. “Recent betting trends have shown one-way traffic for Hillary and punters seemed to have called it 100 percent correct. Despite Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ message appealing to many disillusioned voters, it looks as though America [is] going to put a woman in the White House.”
Betting on the presidential race in 2016 hit record highs. But bookmakers took a bath.
Paddy Power ended up losing $4.7 million on the race, Gambling.com reported.
“We’ve been well and truly thumped by Trump with his victory leaving us with the biggest political payout in the company’s history and some very, very expensive egg on our faces,” the bookmaker said in a statement after the election.
So how do the bookmakers’ numbers from last election compare to this time around?
“It’s eerily similar,” said Derek Brookmeyer of Gambling.com.
“Today, according to Bookies.com’s Daily Election Tracker, odds for Trump’s re-election are at +150, which implies an 40 percent probability, which is not much higher than where he was in 2016. Similarly, Biden’s odds (-182) are not far off of Clinton’s going into Election Day,” he said.
“According to the betting odds, Donald Trump’s chances of winning the 2020 US election greatly improved over the last week. Online bettors rushed to back Donald Trump following allegations over Joe Biden’s links in Ukraine earlier in the week, and Trump’s momentum has continued to build ever since,” the site wrote.
Earlier this month, major bookmakers suspended betting on the presidential election following news that the president and first lady tested positive for coronavirus.
“We have temporarily taken the U.S. election markets down as we await further updates — this is standard procedure and we wish Donald and Melania Trump well,” a spokesman for Ladbrokes told Reuters.
But the biggest betters are still wagering that Mr. Biden wins.
“Multiple bets worth more than $100,000 have been placed on Joe Biden winning the presidency in the last week — but none have gone on President Donald Trump, according to a leading UK bookmaker,” Newsweek reported. “None of the ten biggest bets on the 2020 US presidential election have backed the incumbent president to win again, Betfair data showed.”
Just remember, the pollsters and the bookies got it all wrong last time. So it might be best to save your money and just watch the circus for free.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @josephcurl.