The US election is a race without a clear favourite

29 September 2016

1:00 PM

29 September 2016

1:00 PM

He can’t win, can he? Really? The unthinkable idea of President Donald J. Trump is becoming a very real possibility. Still, nobody can quite believe it will happen — but the bookmakers are shortening their odds in a hurry. As we go to press, most major bookies have Trump at 6/4 or 13/8. You could have had 100/1 just over a year ago. By the time you read this, the Trump Train may have derailed spectacularly. He may have imploded in the first televised debate, in Long Island, New York. But it’s just as likely that Hillary Clinton will have come off worse. The dreaded Donald, who is capable of charm when he tries, could be favourite in the betting markets.

As things stands, however, Trump doesn’t represent much value at 6/4. Yes, Hillary’s campaign is, like her health, breaking down. Yes, Team Trump has become sharper and more disciplined since he hired Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon as his campaign managers in August. But he still faces huge obstacles in his path to the presidency.

His favourability rating (the percentage of the whole electorate that views him favourably) has improved, but is still worse than any major party nominee’s in history. He has caught up with or overtaken Clinton in polls in several key ‘battleground states’ — Ohio, Iowa, Florida — but even if he held those gains, according to the very latest surveys, he would still fall just short of victory.

Given that he polls so badly with racial minorities and women, Trump-desperately needs to win a huge percentage of white male voters — experts reckon about 70 per cent. Yet he is currently performing worse among whites than Mitt Romney did in 2012. Also, a majority of Catholics oppose Trump, and a majority of Catholics have voted for the winner of the popular vote in almost every presidential election since Franklin Roosevelt.

What Trump does have is momentum —The Big Mo, as George H.W. Bush called it — and in any normal election year that should count for a lot in the last few weeks of the campaign. But 2016 is not a normal year. Since both candidates are so widely reviled, being in the ascendancy can quickly become a disadvantage. As Trump does-better, and the reality of his closeness to the White House dawns, voters will turn against him in droves — as they did against Hillary when her victory seemed to be becoming inevitable in July. Trump’s resurgence, while real, is media-generated: for all that most journalists despise him, they want a close race because that will drive more traffic, increase viewing figures and sell more newspapers.

So, this Speculator would suggest avoiding a Trump bet at anything shorter than 3/1. However, that’s not to say Hillary is a worth a punt either — at least not yet. As I write, most bookies are offering 4/7 on her, or slightly worse, which is not a good price. Like ‘The Donald’, she’s a terrible candidate: dishonest, unattractive and obnoxious. Some polls suggest that, as happened with Brexit, a huge number of disaffected and hitherto apathetic poor white citizens will become voters for the first time — and poor whites tend to be pro-Trump.

Moreover, the more people see of Hillary, the less they like her. The worst thing for her would be a continuing series of what New York Times columnist Ross Douthat called ‘gray swans’ — depressing but not world-changing bad-news stories that feed disillusionment with politics but don’t frighten the electorate into thinking now is the time for a safe pair of hands.

Trump’s hands, as everyone knows, are small and dangerous, and no electorate would trust him in a crisis. But the gray swans seem to be lining up behind him. There have been terror attacks, which, though awful, haven’t been horrible enough to turn America’s world upside down in the way 9/11 did. And then there’s Hillary’s health. The uncertainty around her physical and even mental capabilities — as well as her campaign’s dishonesty about the state of her health — is sapping voters’ confidence in her.

Since neither candidate stands out as worth betting on, the smart move might be to wager on a tight contest. On Betfair Exchange, for instance, you can bet with handicaps. This makes ‘Trump +49.5’, meaning you would still win if Trump lost by fewer than 50 electoral votes — quite a tempting punt at 4/6.

But it hasn’t tempted me. For what it’s worth, I have instead put a bet on Tim Kaine, Clinton’s vice-presidential candidate, to be the next president at 160-1, which I thought not a bad a price given that Hillary is a 68-year-old woman recovering from pneumonia. It’s a crazy, morbid bet, but the times they are a-crazy and morbid, too.

The post The US election is a race without a clear favourite appeared first on The Spectator.

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