5 Things You Need To Know When Considering Political Betting

The world of politics is a difficult one to judge. From snap elections to 10,000+ majorities overturned in a single night, betting on politics is always going to be challenging. When the whim of the people is the deciding factor, there will always be the possibility of misjudgement.

The simple facts as described above often used to explain why someone – even the most committed of punters – may choose to eschew political betting. This is especially true in recent years, when shock electoral victories across the world have happened frequently enough to now almost be considered the norm. Compared to conventional betting options such as horse racing, political betting seems incredibly fluid and unpredictable. There’s no carefully weighing the odds and judging past form; everything can change in an instant, with one one comment sinking a electoral campaign or a even a political career in one fell swoop.

At Betting.org, we always seek to provide the information you need to maximise your betting experience – and if you’re considering trying political betting, we see it as our place to supply you with the essential need-to-knows to make that possible. Below, we have provided five essential things you need to remember, and look out for, when betting on politics. Read on to find out more…

#1 – You Have To Be Interested In Politics

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At Betting.org, we’re fond of continually reinforcing the need to be knowledgeable about a subject if you’re intending to bet on it. That’s just good sense, and it’s a point we’ll keep making time and again… including now.

The simple truth is that to bet on politics, you have to understand politics. To truly understand politics, you have to be interested in politics. The UK political system has a tendency to be opaque and confusing, which can lead to apathy when it comes to understanding the ins and outs of how everything works. For the most part, this is harmless; there is no specific need for the everyday citizen to study the intricacies of the political system, and it’s more than possible to be an informed voter without truly engaging with the subject.

However, if you want to bet on politics, you have to care about politics — because you’re going to have to spend a huge amount of time researching, learning, and seeking to further your understanding of the subject. So while you have to be interested in, and knowledgeable about, anything that you wish to bet on, this need is particularly important for political betting.

#2 – Expect The Unexpected

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In recent years, election results across the world have delivered unexpected results. Emmanuel Macron in France shocked the world, emerging from nowhere to take a surprise victory from the Front National’s Marine Le Pen; no one but Donald Trump expected Trump would win the 2016 US election; and, closer to home, Brexit was never meant to be possible, and the Tories embarked on the 2017 election with the expectation that a 100+ majority was in their grasp — a miscalculation that cost them any majority at all, and left them reliant on a confidence and supply arrangement with the DUP.

It’s fair to say that these shock election results are a sign of a worldwide voter base that is, to be frank, fed up. The existing political system is largely seen as failing — even by those within it — and that means that candidates closer to the more extreme edges of the right and left appeal more to the electorate. When people are fed up, they seek drastic change. Only Macron in France, with an uber-centrist new party, bucked this trend — and considering his popularity rating rarely pops above 40%, there’s a sense that French voters may be doubting their choice.

It is important to factor this worldwide malaise into your thinking when seeking to bet on politics.

#3 – Watch The Policies, Not The People

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When betting on politics, it’s easy to focus on people: who will be the next Prime Minister, who will be the next party leader, and so on and so forth.

However, if you wish to bet on politics astutely, then you need to focus on policy rather than people — and there’s a great example of why this is the case with the 2015 Labour leadership election.

So, let’s set the scene. Ed Miliband resigned as Labour leader following a surprise election defeat. This has led to an interminably long leadership election. There were four candidates:

  • Andy Burnham, former minister, widely seen as the centrist candidate.
  • Yvette Cooper, former minister, also fairly centrist, and yet to be humiliated by her husband’s dancing on national television.
  • Liz Kendall, former minister, the right wing (by Labour standards) candidate.
  • Jeremy Corbyn, former nothing, of the left.

At the start of the contest, the general conclusion from political commentators — and the bookies — was that it was going to be Burnham, with Cooper having an outside shot. Most dismissed Kendall as being too far to the right. And, frankly, none of them even thought about Corbyn — he seemed like a frankly ludicrous suggestion who was along for the ride, but didn’t stand a chance.

As we all know, the bookies and the political class were wrong, and Corbyn would go on to win the leadership on first preference votes of over 60%. However, there was a sign during the campaign that many people missed; a sign that another candidate, undoubtedly receiving private polling, noticed — and it’s the kind of sign that you, as a political bettor, have to be alert to.

Andy Burnham, somewhat to the surprise of everyone, announced mid-campaign that one of his policy platforms would be to renationalise the railways. This is a traditionally left-wing stance, from a former government minister who was really-not-very-left-wing-at-all. What on earth was going on?

Simple: Burnham and his team knew that Corbyn was making headway. They opted to adopt one of the least radical left-wing ideas as their own, in a desperate attempt to appeal to the voters who were trickling towards Corbyn. At the time, bookmakers and political commentators didn’t note the shift as quickly as they should have — right up until the week before, the idea of Corbyn winning was still seen as completely unthinkable. But Burnham and his team knew something was afoot, and shifted their policies in an attempt to recapture voters they knew they were losing.

When betting on politics, policy is far more indicative of political movements than people. If political figures are changing what they say they believe in, then there’s a reason for it, and you — as a bettor — need to decipher the reasons for their sudden change of heart. Why would a centrist candidate suddenly embrace a left-wing policy? Because the left-wing candidate is doing well. This seems so obvious now, but at the time, few people reacted to it. When engaging in politics betting, you have to be willing to look at what people are saying, and their reasons for doing so, rather than just focusing on the people making the speech.

#4 – The Bookies Are Right More Often Than Not

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We have mentioned the electoral upsets that have taken place over recent years, which perhaps suggests that the bookies are out of kilter with the electorate. However, these upsets can give a false sense of security — and its vital to see these results as statistical outliers rather than a continual misunderstanding of the current political scene. More often than not, the bookies judge politics to perfection.

In 2018, Home Secretary Amber Rudd resigned from the government due to her office’s handling of the Windrush scandal. This led to an immediate scramble for a replacement. The bookies — and every astute politics-watcher in the country — didn’t have to look far to find the answer: Sajid Javid. From the moment Rudd resigned, Javid was the bookies favourite, and they were right on the money with that judgement.

Bookmakers are able to predict politics because they can think like politicians. Javid was the right decision for a wide variety of reasons, and his eventual announcement as Home Secretary came as a surprise to precisely no one, but especially not to bookmakers.

So while it’s important to note that sometimes the unexpected will happen, you have to be able to substantiate reasons the unlikely will happen. There was no reason Javid wasn’t the perfect decision for Home Secretary, hence his appointment, but there were reasons behind other upsets. One could argue that the roots of Corbyn’s success date back to a general dislike of the Blair government on the left; Trump is the product of years of neglect of the American Rust Belt; and the Tories woefully underestimated the strength of support for remaining in the European Union when they called the 2017 election. While these upsets may have seemed shocking at the time, on reflection, they weren’t.

It may seem confusing to warn you to “expect the unexpected!” in politics betting, then in another breath insist that, actually, most of the time the expected will happen. The key difference is the reason you should expect the unexpected. Are you tempted to move away from the favourites, or to back a shock outcome that defies polling, for a legitimate political reason? If so, then proceed. However, if you’re tempted to just back any outlandish bet just because it’s outlandish and we live in strange times, then that’s not a good reason to bet.

#5 – Pay Attention To Internet Polling

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Political polling has always positioned itself as a science rather than an art. This is understandable; the ability to collect, interpret, and extrapolate data is an incredibly complex, inherently scientific, process.

However, if there is one thing you can take from the upsets of the last few years, it’s that polling is reaching a point of irrelevancy. Here’s a quick list of recent elections that produced results that defied the polls:

  • 2015 UK General Election — pollsters believe Ed Miliband, probably in coalition with the SNP, would be Prime Minister.
  • 2015 Labour Election — Corbyn was a distant outsider at the start of the race (though, in fairness, his odds did narrow substantially in the final week of the campaign).
  • 2016 EU Referendum vote — all polls indicated a win for Remain.
  • 2016 US Presidential Election — pollsters believed it was going to be President Clinton (Again)
  • 2017 UK General Election — polling suggested a Conservative majority of between 40 and 60.

That’s… that’s a pretty staggering list of things to get very, very wrong: two UK elections, the shadow leadership, and a Presidential race. Polling may be a science, but its previous Eureka moments are a distant memory now.

However, there is a type of polling that has been more indicative of these shocking outcomes: online polling. We’ve all seen this type of poll; you go to read a newspaper, and they ask you to click a button to say who you’re voting for. Interestingly, in the US in 2016, internet polls consistently showed a preference for Trump. The scientific, carefully-designed polling didn’t, so no one gave it much thought, but then election night happened and even pollsters started to question if they knew what they were doing anymore.

Alas, it’s not the pollsters fault: it’s the electorate. When asked who they are going to vote for, people… well… they lie. This is especially true if they are voting for a party or person who is not quite as nice as people may like. In the UK, the phenomenon of “shy Tories” has been in existence for decades; people who will say they are voting for another party, but who will always back blue the moment they have a ballot paper in front of them. In 2016, people happily lied to pollsters, and the “shy Trump voter” became a political force.

Yet people don’t lie in those cheap, boring online polls that most of us skim past without a second thought. Why is that? Simple: those polls are anonymous. Click a box and you’re done. Conventional polling isn’t anonymous; in fact, telephone polling — which involves divulging your voting preference to an actual person — has long been considered the gold standard of polling… but it’s also the perfect environment for people to want to lie about their not-so-nice voting preference. Humans want to be liked, and if someone suspects the person they are talking to — even if they are just a political pollster — will somehow disapprove of their choice of vote, then they will lie. Every time.

So when considering political betting, pay attention to those nonsense, non-scientific polls; they may be a better reflection of people’s true voting intent than the huge polling companies we have all been taught to rely on.

In Conclusion

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Ultimately, the decision as to whether or not you wish to engage with political betting is yours alone. There is no denying that politics is nigh-on impossible to predict; this is a world that moves at a relentless pace, and twists and turns in a desperate attempt to reflect voting intent. However, with the right core principles, political betting can be genuinely enjoyable, and potentially even profitable.

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