Betting markets: Trump gets rare debate praise, but Biden retains Election Day momentum

Javier E. David
·Editor focused on markets and the economy
·4 min read

President Donald Trump earned rare plaudits for an even-tempered performance during the final debate of the campaign season, but predictive markets still imply former Vice President Joe Biden remains on a glide path to an Election Day victory.

A combative yet substantive debate saw the president and his Democratic challenger spar over a broad range of issues that included the COVID-19 pandemic, health care, race relations and energy.

However, betting markets still favor a Biden victory, with Trump having squandered much of the momentum he gathered before last month’s raucous first debate. The current state of play suggests that a brewing scandal involving the former VP’s son Hunter has yet to move the needle in the president’s favor.

Smarkets investors now see the Democrat’s odds of winning the White House at 67%, meaning he is still twice as likely as Trump to win on November 3. Simultaneously, Bookies.com saw some tightening in the race, with Trump’s odds improving slightly after the debate. However, Biden remains overwhelmingly favored when stacked up against the embattled incumbent.

“Regardless of the overnight improvement, Trump’s current odds are still worse than they were earlier in the week,” Bookies pointed out. “So although his odds have improved slightly post-debate, the president is still a long way off where a winning candidate would hope to be at this stage in the race.”

According to Smarkets’ state-by-state data, Biden is poised for a blowout Electoral College win of 317, compared to 221 for the incumbent. The emerging consensus of a “blue wave” election complicates Republican efforts to retain their slim majority in the Senate, a scenario that Bookies.com sees at a mere 30.8% given current trends.

Blowout, or ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ all over again?

U.S. President Donald Trump refers to amounts of temperature change as he announces his decision that the United States will withdraw from the landmark Paris Climate Agreement, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 1, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque  TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump refers to amounts of temperature change as he announces his decision that the United States will withdraw from the landmark Paris Climate Agreement, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 1, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Analysts have pointed to the record surge in early voting, with nearly 50 million ballots already cast, as a potentially ominous sign for Trump and the GOP. It also suggests that many voters are unlikely to be swayed by a debate, especially at this late stage.

Research indicates that presidential debates can nudge undecided voters in one direction, but that "candidate switching" among decided voters is less common,” wrote Mark Haefele, chief investment officer at UBS Global Wealth Management in a research note on Friday.

“Less than two weeks before the election some 47 million votes have already been cast, suggesting an even lower chance of changing voters’ minds,” he added.

...unless the polls narrow into election day — a Trump victory would be the biggest error in our modern era of mass polling. Jim Reid, Deutsche Bank

Against that backdrop, Trump is “rapidly running out of opportunities to turn the tide back in his favour, with our key election markets remaining unmoved,” said Smarkets Head of Political Markets Sarbjit, who suggested the picture was growing increasingly “bleak” for the GOP as battlegrounds like Florida shift toward Biden.

To be certain, the current environment is similar to 2016, when Trump shocked the world by losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, but winning the Electoral College by a wide margin. Yet again, some suggest the polls may be overstating support for the Democrat, while underestimating the president’s support.

However, Deutsche Bank, which recently calculated the largest polling errors in post-World War II elections, found that the median error for the Republican candidate was less than 1%.

The largest was in 1948, when incumbent Harry Truman won by a stunning 5% despite lagging New York Governor Thomas Dewey — which led to the infamous “Dewey Defeats Truman” newspaper headline. Both Ronald Reagan’s and Bill Clinton’s respective wins were also polling misses, Deutsche pointed out.

“A Truman style error in the polls may give Mr. Trump a chance given the Electoral College system, but the reality is that — unless the polls narrow into Election Day — a Trump victory would be the biggest error in our modern era of mass polling,” wrote Jim Reid, Deutsche Bank’s chief economist, last week.

Javier David is an editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter: @TeflonGeek

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