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2020 Election Season Articles

Biden Goes Anti-Riot
September 9, 2020
Three weeks ago, Joe Biden had a commanding lead in the polls and was keeping his mouth shut, and largely staying out of public view -- the traditional strategy of a frontrunner with a wide margin. However, public sentiment rapidly shifted against the ongoing violence taking place in America's urban areas. ANTIFA rioting in Portland entered its 100th consecutive day, there were high profile killings in Kenosha, Wisconsin and Portland, Oregon, and the overall death toll from BLM and ANTIFA rioting surpassed 30, with injuries in the thousands, hundreds of businesses burned to the ground, and property losses projected to top $2 billion. As riot-fatigue set in, Joe Biden's poll numbers began to plummet, and the RCP betting-odds average fell right along with them. Just as the betting odds fell to coin-toss territory, Biden finally made public statements against the rioting -- and it seems to have helped.


Biden's public statements that he condemns violence across-the-board "no matter who it is" appear, for now, to have stopped his precipitous fall in the polls. The betting odds are now bouncing back in Biden's favor -- sitting at around 53/47 as of today. There remains a large disconnect between state-by-state wagering on PredictIt and the contract for overall-winner, which technically represents an arbitrage opportunity, but one that is very hard to exploit because market participants can't be sure which states are wrong -- but the current contract on the overall winner signals that they know some of the state-by-state contracts surely are. For example, PredictIt participants believe that Biden has a 65% chance of Winning PA and WI (and AZ!), and a 70% chance of winning MI -- but only a a 59% chance of winning the election. If those state contracts are accurate, Joe Biden's chances of winning the election are closer to 85%. Talk about serious 2016 Déjà vu vibes.



Missing Bumps
August 25, 2020
Historically, the opposition party typically sees a bump in the polls after a favorable VP pick, and during the party convention. We're now several days post Democratic National Convention and it's been more than a week since the Kamala Harris pick, but there hasn't been a discernable bump for Biden in the RCP average betting odds. In fact, Trump's numbers have been steadily improving over the past 30 days. So why are the Biden bumps missing?

no convention kamala bump



The explanation kindest to the Biden campaign is that betting markets had already priced in a Kamala Harris pick, and that COVID driving the conventions online leads to lower viewership, less engagement, and less energy. Scott Adams, the Dilbert cartoonist with an uncanny insight into Trump-era politics, called a Kamala Harris pick for the Dem ticket back in December of 2019. On the other side of the aisle, Politico leaked an article naming Harris as the VP pick on July 28, later chalking it up to a website error (complete with graphics and a congratulatory quote from Biden). There didn't seem to be any widespread whisperings of anyone other than Harris getting the nod. It's probably safe to assume that people betting real money on the election had already priced in Harris as the VP pick.

Even with disabled chatrooms and YouTube comments on convention videos, online viewership appears to be much higher than 2016. Television viewership, however, is down as much as 48% compared to the DNC ratings from four years ago. Don't assume that is a bad thing for Joe Biden. He's the frontrunner in the polls and the betting markets, and, if the numbers are to be believed, then it's his race to lose -- and keeping a low profile is a perfectly valid strategy. A lack of a convention-bump for Biden may end up being fairly meaningless if his 14 point lead in the RCP betting average is real.




Are We Seeing a Repeat of the Polling from Clinton V. Trump?
July 22, 2020
Everyone remembers when Hillary Clinton had a commanding lead in the polls in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin -- with Wisconsin's election day RCP poll average showing a dominating 6.5 point advantage over Donald Trump. She would lose all three states, with the polls in Wisconsin being off by a staggering 7.3 points. Joe Biden currently shows a 6.0 point lead in Wisconsin in the Real Clear Politics polling average. This raises the question: is Biden that far ahead, or are we seeing a repeat of 2016's forecasting disaster?

Could MSNBC have been more wrong?

To answer that question accurately would require inside pollster information that few have access to, but we can at least assume that the polling outfits are going to conduct more polling in the rust belt than they did in 2016. Some of 2016's inaccuracy was from a simple lack of polling in the (presumed-to-be-safe) states where the largest upsets were, and that is unlikely to be repeated this cycle. The polling error resulting from bad sampling, however, is likely to repeat - as the polls that disclose their sampling methodology show little change from 2016, and tend to oversample Democrats and generally do a poor job of distinguishing registered and likely voters.

The other question that is circulating in the forecasting community is "does Trump have secret voters?" These are voters who do not indicate support for Trump publicly or to pollsters, while fully intending to vote for the President. Nate Silver's 538 definitively states that this is an impossibility, and also stated that conclusion almost immediately after the 2016 election. For a forecaster who missed 2016 by five key states, and over 90 electoral votes they seem a tad overconfident in drawing this conclusion. Amidst a peaking cancel-culture, riots, doxxing, and targeted threats it's probably safe to assume that there are more than a few people who play their Trump cards close to the chest. If you lived in a deep-blue urban area, would you put a Trump sign in your yard? Even if it's just a point or two in the polls, that's enough to draw some of these races within the margin of error and dead-heat territory. Speaking of dead heats...

ElectoralMap.net's Favorite Tied Electoral College Scenario

Suppose that today's polls in the rust belt states are corrected for 2016's polling error. Currently, Trump would still lose Pennsylvania and Michigan, but would win Wisconsin. This presents an interesting possibility for an Electoral College tie, if President Trump were to also lose his single electoral vote from Maine's split vote. This scenario, however unlikely, could get extremely interesting...and messy. The issue of faithless electors (electors who do not cast their vote as the state did) would go from a historical curiosity to a profound historical event. In 2016 there were seven electors who cast their votes for someone other than the winner in their state - more than enough to throw a close, let alone tied, election into chaos. Supposing that neither candidate crossed the 270 threshold, the election would then turn to the newly elected House Of Representatives which would convene immediately and cast one vote per state, with a majority of states being required to declare a winner. The process from that point forward generally favors Republicans, but this would definitely be in the realm of the strange where anything could happen.




Civil Unrest Helps Biden
June 23, 2020
The protests, rioting, and looting of the last few weeks has been a boon for Joe Biden on most prediction and betting markets. Before the unrest, Trump held a roughly 8 point advantage over Biden. Biden now holds a massive 16 point lead over Trump, representing a nearly 25 point swing in the betting market averages. This data runs counter to what many conservative pundits have asserted, that Trump would be the beneficiary of the lawlessness and destruction.

There are, however, some silver linings for the GOP in the data. Most of the wagering on the election takes the form of overall-winner contracts. When you drill down into the state-by-state polling, Biden's lead in the polls narrows substantially -- and is weak in the places he needs it most. In Wisconsin and Pennsylvania he holds a five point advantage, and in Michigan it's eight points. These leads are even smaller than the polling suggested for Hillary Clinton, and Trump upset for the win in all three states. The national election will probably hinge on those three states once again, assuming Trump can hold Florida and Ohio. Those wagering on overall-winner contracts may be underestimating Trumps position in the Electoral College.

Republicans also point to record-breaking gun sales figures coming out all across the country as proof that the "silent majority" is less than thrilled about the ongoing unrest that has now left over twenty people dead and hundreds of businesses burned to the ground. Crime is also surging in major cities across America, with Chicago seeing one of its all-time worst weekends with over 100 people shot over the Father's Day weekend. Historically, these indicators point to strength in turnout for the GOP, but the election is still a long way off. Four and a half months is an eternity in an election cycle, just look how far the pendulum swung in one.


Prediction Markets Defy Polls
May 11, 2020
Polling data is still thin, but there have been three recently-conducted polls for a general election faceoff between Biden and Trump. Monmouth, The Economist, and CNBC all have published results as recently as May 6th -- and all three have Biden showing a lead over Trump. As of May 11th, prediction markets Betfair, PredictIt and PredictWise remain unbudging with Trump showing a lead over Biden. This is the first unmistakable disconnect of the season between polling and prediction markets.


This disconnect seems to hold even if you zoom out and look at a wider sample than just these three polls and three prediction markets. As of May 11, 2020, the Real Clear Politics national average of polls shows Biden with a +4.4 spread, while their Betting Odds average shows Trump with an 8.1 point lead for Trump. Even this early in the season, one has to wonder why there is a healthy 12 point gap between what the polls are saying and how people are actually betting with real money. Nate Silver's fivethirtyeight.com site is not currently showing a spread on their main politics page, opting instead to run Trump's Presidential approval number, currently 44%. We already know that metric has marginal utility, as Barack Obama's approval percentage in May of 2012 hovered around 47%, and he ended up sailing to an easy victory that November.


Sanders Out, Betting Odds Unchanged
April 16, 2020
A great deal has happened in the last two weeks. Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign, much to the surprise of his supporters, making Joe Biden the presumptive nominee for the Democrats. The Democratic National Convention was moved to August 17th to give the planners more time to monitor what happens with Coronavirus. The first stimulus payments started getting to taxpayers with direct deposit information on file with the IRS. The US stock market indices have recovered a bit of their losses, and there has been good news on the numbers front in the battle against COVID19. Through all of this, the prediction markets have basically signaled that this information was already priced into most forecasts - barely budging at all. Trump maintains a 5 point edge on PredictIt, Betfair gives him a 54.6% chance of winning, and PredictWise has Trump holding steady at 54%.

Of note is that none of these figures registered even a small blip upon two prominent Biden endorsements, those of Sanders himself and former President Barack Obama. Also notable is that Trump's chances of re-election have barely budged despite a bounce in his approval numbers. All of this suggests that forecasters are still starved for data to make a meaningful prediction, and despite the busy appearance of the last two weeks, most of it was fully anticipated.


Trump Holds On To 54% Chance of Win
April 2, 2020
We're a solid two to three weeks into the Corona Virus shutdown and there has been some back-and-forth on a few of the prediction markets -- but not as much as you'd think. Donald Trump has maintained a 54% chance of re-election on Predictwise, a 49% chance on PredictIt, a 52% chance on BetFair, and HyperMind gives him 48%.


2020 Season Kickoff
March 18, 2020
ElectoralMap.net is now live for the 2020 election season. As usual, the House, Senate, and Governor's races will be tracked in addition to the battle for the Presidency. The forecasts will be based on an amalgam of curated and weighted polls and prediction markets. Find out more about which data sources will be used by following regular posts here.


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