Archive for October, 2008


November 2nd 2004: the night John Kerry thought he would wake up as President

Friday, October 31st, 2008

    What lessons can we learn from last time?

At 1.05am EST on November 3rd 2004 the US news channel, CNN, showed the above graphic on the screen illustrating the result of an exit poll in Ohio, the key state that Senator John Kerry had to win if he was to beat George W. Bush for the Presidency.

    The message was clear. Kerry was ahead in Ohio and the chances were that the state would give him enough votes in the electoral college to become the next President. The exit polls and the leaks about them the previous evening had completely turned the White House Race betting market on its head.

When the polling stations had opened on the day before Bush was an odds on favourite to win. By the time the exit polls had been published things had changed dramatically. Those few hours saw the biggest political gambling spree ever seen with an estimated £25m being bet in the UK alone.

The exit poll results had been produced for a consortium of the major US news organizations, working as the National Election Pool (NEP). They were based on interviews with voters in 49 states. In the days and months that followed there were huge investigation into why the NEP figures, particularly in key states such as Ohio, has been wrong.

The co-director of NEP, Warren Mitofsky, was quoted as saying “the Kerry voters were more anxious to participate in our exit polls than the Bush voters”. Another suggestion was that women, who were marginally more pro-Kerry and certainly in the early polls they represented 58% of the sampled voters.

Whatever the post-elections explanations this was completely irrelevant to the betting. Punters were making decisions in an instant and the conclusion from what was being reported about the polls was that Kerry had won. Many gamblers lost a lot of money that night and one of the bosses of a spread-betting company told me later that it was one of their most profitable sessions ever.

Live White House race betting odds.

Mike Smithson


Who’ll win the battle for 3rd place in Glenrothes?

Friday, October 31st, 2008

    Who’s going to win the Glenrothes betting war?

There are more betting opportunities on next Thursday’s Glenrothes by election and this one, from PB’s spread-betting sponsor, Sporting Index, allows you to have a punt on which party will end up third.

Thus if you bought the Tories at 3 points and they did make it to third then you would win twice your stake unit. If they lost you would lose three times the amount. Sounds complicated? Well the firm is offering to give a free copy of my book, “The Political Punter” to all those who sign up for an account through the links on this site and have a first bet.

I find this a hard call – because it was only two and half years ago that the Lib Dems pulled off their sensational victory over Labour in the seat next door – Dunfermline.

Meanwhile there have been reports that both the SNP and Labour are urging their activists to bet on their respective parties to show that they have the momentum.

According the The Scotsman emails are being sent out by a group linked with the SNP urging this action.

The email says: “It is essential that everyone does this, as our intelligence indicates money is going into William Hill’s from Labour activists throughout the UK in order to make them bookies’ favourites. If you have no previous experience of going into a betting shop then don’t worry – they are most helpful. The young woman who placed this bet had never ever been in a betting shop in her life before, and just went up to the desk and asked for help.”

This seems to have been kicked off by Labour and Michael Crick reported on Newsnight last night that the party faithful were being asked to put a tenner on.

My view is that the political atmosphere is not as highly charged as it was in July for Glasgow East and there just might be less of a desire to give Labour a good kicking. If that’s the case then you could envisage a Labour hold. Nothing has happened since Monday to change my suggestion that Labour at better than evens is a value bet. I wrote that just after I had got as much as I could on Labour at 2-1.

Get the latest live prices from PB’s other sponsor – Bestbetting which has the fullest range of political prices available anyhere from a wide group of bookmakers.

Mike Smithson


YouGov’s Tory lead stablises at 9%

Friday, October 31st, 2008

    But are the marginals behaving differently?

The Daily Telegraph YouGov poll for October is out this morning and shows almost no change on the last survey from the pollster a fortnight ago and is producing numbers fairly in line with other pollsters.

The Tories will be relieved that the paper’s still has them comfortably in the 40s while Labour is only polling three points down on its general election level.

    There’s little doubt that the last month and a half has seen a step change in public opinion and what we are getting is a “new normality” where there has been enough of a Labour recovery to suggest, on a uniform swing, only a bare Cameron majority.

But Brown’s party really needs to see the Tory share slip below 40% from a range of pollsters to have a realistic chance of the outcome being a hung parliament.

Feeding in the latest poll into the UKPollingReport seat calculator and we get CON 333: LAB 265: LD 24: OTH 28 seats. This almost certainly underplays the Lib Dem position but gives a broad view of where we are – a small Conservative majority.

What is interesting is that between the last national YouGov survey a fortnight ago and this one there has been the Channel 4 YouGov poll of the marginals which pointed to an overall Tory majority of 54 seats. This seems to indicate the things are working differently in the key seats where the election will be decided and where the parties are putting most of their campaigning effort.

Coming on top of the ComRes poll on Tuesday I would expect a tightening of the position between the parties on the spread betting markets. The current levels from PB’s spreadbetting sponsor, SportingIndex are now CON 338-344: LAB 238-244: LD 43-46 seats – down a couple of notches overnight and showing an eight seat Tory drop during October.

I am currently a Tory seller and will stay that way.

Mike Smithson


And what about the weekly BBC polling “scandal”?

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

    When are they going to clamp-down on pro-Labour samples?

One most Fridays when parliament is sitting BBC2’s “Daily Politics” programme announces the results of its latest ComRes poll on matters of current concern. This generally gets picked up by other parts of the media who treat it, quite naturally, like any other ComRes political poll. It’s not and the BBC should say so.

For the Daily Politics polls have one fundamental difference compared with the standard ComRes voting intention surveys – there’s no effort to ensure a politically balanced sample which almost inevitably means that its skewed towards Labour supporters.

    In every single ComRes voting intention poll since they introduced past vote weighting the influence of Labour supporters has had to be scaled back when working out the final figures – yet the BBC allows its political surveys on matters a significant current political interest to be carried out without this adjustment.

It’s been known since the early 90s that a disproportionate number of Labour supporters respond to unsolicited randomised polling phone calls. Who knows the reason? Ipsos-MORI think it’s because they get too many public sector workers answer the phone. Whatever – those involved in polling recognise the issue and do something about it.

In fact for the first time ever we will be going into a general election when every single pollster that carries out voting intention polling will be taking measures of one sort or another to avoid political sample bias.

This should be applied to the Daily Politics surveys even though BBC rules prevent voting intention questions. If that’s not possible then Andrew Neil needs to explain that no effort has been made to make such an adjustment and their poll cannot be compared with a standard ComRes poll.

And other parts of the media need to treat these surveys with the utmost caution. Without this they are misleading their viewers, readers and the public at large.

  • Our cartoon, as ever, is an original by Marf and was produced for and by special agreement is also used on PB.
  • Mike Smithson


    Will this seal the deal or open up more questions?

    Thursday, October 30th, 2008

    click the panel to watch it in full

      What do we think of Obama’s $4m “Infomercial”?

    The major event in the White House race overnight was the half hour commercial that the Obama campaign placed at peak times on almost all the networks and which cost an estimated $4m.

    When I heard of the plan my initial reaction was to think that it was a mistake – a bit like his mass rally in Berlin. Obama is already under fire for going back on an earlier pledge not to accept public money with the restrictions that that entails. Such public lavish expenditure underlines the spending gap with McCain and might still come back to bite him.

    I also wondered whether there was going to be something of the Kinnock 1992 Sheffield rally about it – especially when I read that part of it was filmed in a facsimile of the White House Oval Office. Having now watched it in full I think it’s probably what will seal the election for him.

    Firstly it’s dominating one more precious news day for John McCain – there isn’t much time left for him to get a final message across. Secondly it does deal with the main negative that his campaign has had to handle – the fact that he is vulnerable to charges that he is not a “normal” American.

    It also appeared designed to prepare the ground for what will be a key part of an Obama presidency – health care reform.

    Anyone who is interested in political campaigning should watch the entire film. It will be referred to time and time again and some of the ideas will be used in UK campaigning.

    For a full range live betting odds from a wide range of bookmakers go to PB’s joint sponsor – Bestbetting.

    Mike Smithson


    Can we wallop the PH100 again on a by-election prediction?

    Thursday, October 30th, 2008

    Three months ago the endlessly irritating PH100 panel of so-called “experts and insiders” on the PoliticsHome PH100 produced their prediction for the Glasgow East by election. They got it wildly wrong while a PB online poll got it precisely right.

    Now the PH100 is back again in the prediction business and their projection for next week’s Glenrothes by election appears above. The panel clearly are not gamblers and their projection has had zero affect on the by election betting.

    For what it’s worth I think this is 50-50 situation and will bet on Labour as long as you can get a price that is substantially better than evens.

    But can the PB community once again produce a better prediction? Please take a couple of seconds to do the online poll below.

    Who do you think will win next week’s Glenrothes by-election?
    None of the above

    UPDATE 1110 am

    I have received the following email from Freddie Sayers of Politics Home:-

    Hi Mike,

    Re your blog on Glenrothes, there was an error in our graph title which we have now fixed – I wonder if you could possibly exchange/update it urgently as it is misleading? I include the corrected version below.

    As is made clear in Andrew’s piece, that line graph does NOT show a prediction of the percentage result. The panel were asked to choose from a multiple choice which expressed the result “in terms of a percentage majority” – the spread of predictions is shown in the bar graph below. The line graph shows overall aggregate Westminster sentiment about the eventual victor in Glenrothes over time.

    As I keep on saying, this has never been a PoliticsHome prediction: it is a very accurate measure, from the very best sample there is, of what the consensus feeling is in Westminster at any one time. It is just as useful and interesting whether they turn out to be wrong or right: if the consensus expectation is that Labour are set to win Glenrothes and they then lose, for example, the backlash can be expected to be that much more severe.

    Below is the amended headline and graphic –

    Mike Smithson


    Before we get off the subject of certainties….

    Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

      Remember the most famous front page in political journalism

    As we contemplate how certain we are about an Obama victory next Tuesday perhaps we ought to remind ourselves of the dangers of jumping the gun.

    The picture is, of course, the famous one of Harry Truman on the morning in 1948 when he was re-elected president, holding up a copy of that day’s Chicago paper with the headline completely wrong.

    Truman won an emphatic victory of 303-189 in electoral college vote terms but the headline was not all that off its target. For if just a few thousand voters in Ohio, Illinois, and California had gone the other way then Dewey would have won.

  • Live White House Race betting from PB’s mainstream betting sponsor, Bestbetting – the world’s leading online betting odds service.
  • Mike Smithson


    Should I put my pension lump sum on Obama?

    Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

      How much of a certainty is the Democrat?

    One group of people who the politicians seem to be ignoring are those like me who look to the interest from their savings for part of their monthly income. Having avoided putting my pension lump sum into shares and then kept well away from the Icelandic banks I now have a problem. After tax the net return from my savings is less than 3% and it looks as though this will get smaller.

      So what about political betting? Should I start risking part of our savings on what seem like certainties. Thus an Obama bet at current levels would produce in a week nearly three times as much as you can get from the bank in a year.

    Here we are on Wednesday – I could put, say, £10,000 on today and be pretty certain of seeing that increase to more than £11,000 in a week’s time. Is this too risky?

    One problem, of course, is that something untoward could happen to Obama and what would happen to the bet then? Well that’s quite simple to deal with – I’d bet against McCain (laying as it is called) on the betting exchanges. A problem with that is that while the Obama market is very liquid there’s not much available to lay on McCain.

    But the key issue is – have we reached a stage where Obama’s victory is certainty? Could I put my bet on feeling pretty sure that he will win next Tuesday?

    The polls and all the early voting data seems to point in that direction and I find it hard to see how he can lose. But, of course, we could all be missing something.

    One thing’s for sure – if I did put a bet of this size on it would sure make next Tuesday night that much more exciting!

    Live White House Race betting prices.

    Our cartoon, as ever, is from Marf of

    Mike Smithson