Polls Apart

I said a few weeks ago, whilst revelling in the sheer side-splitting farce of the Abbott/Ferrari car crash, that this blog was never going to become political. That remains true, but on the basis that it’s more interesting when you have an interest in it (some bookmaker should use that for their tagline, you know) I can’t resist searching for value in the murky underworld of politics.

And, of course, there is value out there. Brexit was backable at 6/1 on polling day, and Trump 4/1. That the opinion polls got it so wrong demonstrates that what people say (or, in some cases, don’t say) and which box they put a cross in are two very different things.

Under such a cloud of unreliable data it may seem like betting on politics is, well, gambling. However, whilst those two recent surprises have indicated that studying the form for political bets may be irrelevant, that is exactly the reason why value may exist in those markets. It comes down to what you personally think the real odds are, and in both Brexit and Trump there were reasons to believe the electorate may not publicise their intentions clearly.

The way this election differs to those other two votes is that, frankly, nobody really gives a shit. People had strong views about Brexit, the result was close, and people’s votes made a difference. However, now we return to the first past the post system where, somebody famously once said, 80% of the votes are completely wasted. It would be an exercise in vanity for me to vote next week because the result in my constituency is a foregone conclusion. And don’t give me that crap about “if everyone thought that way” or “your forefathers died to give you the vote”.

I have huge respect for those brave men and woman who gave their lives over the generations to secure my freedom, but one way of expressing that is by exercising my right not to vote. And really, over the last two months has anybody really proved that they deserve my vote? Interestingly, there are echoes of Brexit and Trump here because this view is somewhat taboo.

The main players refuse to properly debate, nobody seems to know the figures in their own manifestos, and the result is clearly not in doubt. From the very start this election has been a strange and utterly pointless exercise. On this basis, I expect voter apathy to be very high and have searched the % turnout markets for that elusive value:

Above 70% 10/1
65% to 70% 5/2
60% to 65% 6/4
Below 60% 2/1

(To put some context to these numbers, turnout remained above 71% between 1922 and 1997. In 2001 it was 59.4%, 2005 61.4%, 2010 65.1% and in 2015 it was 66.1%.)

I didn’t bet on the outcomes of Brexit or Trump because I felt I didn’t know enough about them and hadn’t really followed the campaigns in enough detail. To clarify, I did vote on the former because I had got interested in the debate, felt I had a good grasp of the issues and knew that my vote would count in a tight contest, but I hadn’t read the newspapers or followed the media closely. I suspected 6/1 was outstanding value, but I didn’t really know.

Now, that approach of ‘radio silence’ is almost reinforcing the value of the proposed bet. Again, I haven’t followed the popular media and suspect many millions are similarly disillusioned by the whole charade, which in itself makes ‘Below 60%’ extraordinary value at 2/1. It would be unusual for turnout to be below 60%, but in 2001 there was little to play for with a large Labour majority assured, and this seems a similar if inverted situation.

Of course, as with any bet there are potential pitfalls. Over the next week somebody could step from the shadows and actually make some sense, inspiring people to vote. I doubt that scenario very much. The other possibility comes from the opposite end of the spectrum – a gaffe, scandal or meltdown of epic proportions, such as leaving a microphone on, or stepping on a kitten.

This could happen (who knows if the outcome in 2015 would have been different if Ed Milliband hadn’t stumbled off stage, or whether we would have a different President if Hilary Clinton hadn’t fainted?) but I suspect that even if it did it wouldn’t make that much difference (witness the Abbott and Corbello gaffes not moving the markets or opinion polls much) and most people have probably stopped caring now anyway.

So the proposed bet may not be the 6/1 bonanza of Brexit, but I doubt you will find a better 2/1 shot in the Racing Post today. Advice – go big on Below 60.