Friday 23 October 2020 5:00 pm

Betfair: Closing stages of White House race offer plenty of uncertainty

Paul Krishnamurty is a professional gambler and Betfair's political betting expert

We are into the closing stretch. Record numbers of Americans have already voted. The final TV debate is done. 

It’s an opportune moment to recall 2016 – at this point, 11 days out, the Clinton email scandal resurfaced. The story usurped many scandals surrounding Trump and probably cost her the presidency. Come the crunch, the larger than usual number of undecided or third party voters broke for him.

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The story affected the betting. Her odds drifted from 1/5 to 4/9 over the next six days – a fall from 83 per cent to 69 per cent implied probability. Note these are much shorter than Biden’s. His odds have decreased to 1/2 from 4/6 since Monday, but still barely reflect the scale of his poll advantage.

Team Biden are all too aware that Trump has come back from the dead before. They’ll note his campaign team are following a similar plan – to throw so much dirt, this time unverified claims coming out of Ukraine regarding his son, attempting to sow doubt and dampen enthusiasm to vote.

It worked a treat, with Democrat turnout falling ruinously in pivotal areas – Philadelphia, Detroit, Milwaukee. Then Trump behaved much better in the closing stretch, staying on message.

From being anything but disciplined for months, Trump successfully changed tack in the debate. No interruptions. No fights with the moderator. The result was by far his best ever debate performance. He’s bound to get better headlines.

My instant take was that Republicans would be relieved. In coming across as a relatively ‘normal’ president, Trump might have calmed fears among GOP-leaning sceptics and punters. 

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However the flipside effect of that different atmosphere might actually help Biden. Without interruptions, important issues and agendas actually got a good airing for once.

Their differences on Covid, healthcare, separating children from parents at the border, climate change were clear to see. No viewer could legitimately claim there is no choice on offer.

Biden also performed much better. He came across as knowledgeable and passionate. Rather than being defined by opponents, this improved format allowed him to frame their differences and the choice on offer at the election. The election is a referendum on Trump – a message Democrats will continue to reinforce.

The performance illustrated why he is proving a superior candidate to Hilary Clinton. When Biden talks Covid, healthcare or the economy, he convincingly sounds on the side of the working class. His career was built in the Rust Belt. It is natural for him to contrast his background, empathy and agenda with a billionaire from New York. 

On the substantive issues, the Democrat is closer to public opinion than Trump. The president has terrible approvals on Covid. Biden takes the virus more seriously and has a plan. He excoriated Trump for pursuing the abolition of Obamacare, leaving hundreds of thousands with pre-existing conditions uncovered.

This was borne out in snap polls recording Biden the winner. CNN had a live focus group of 11 undecided voters in North Carolina. They generally preferred this improved version of Trump but none made him the winner. Nine went for Biden and two were undecided.

Equally though, Republicans will take hope from the exchange over fracking and the oil industry. Biden’s policy to transition to renewables from oil will be seized upon and weaponised in affected states. Most notably Pennsylvania and Texas. It may well impact Senate races.

Nevertheless any effect is questionable, when so many have voted, are in the process of doing so, or have already decided. Expect further eye-popping turnout numbers to emerge in the coming days, which will broadly tell us how many voters each side needs on the day.

While the signals are extremely positive for Biden, you cannot discount – not should you be surprised – that punters are throwing money at Trump, knowing exactly what he can achieve when we edge closer to polling day.

***Odds were correct at the time of writing, check Betfair Exchange for the latest US election odds. 18+ please gamble responsibly***