Don’t Believe the Election Polls. Look at the Odds Instead.

Everett Minshall
Sep 10, 2020 · 5 min read

The most reliable poll for the next president of the United States

Back in November of 2016, the New York Times predicted Hillary Clinton had an 85% chance of winning the presidential election. Indeed, nearly every other news outlet reported 3 to 4 point leads in battleground states favoring Hillary Clinton. They were all wrong.

It was blamed on the silent majority, methodology, and Russia collusion.

So what’s happening this year?

Well, the New York Times is reporting there is no tightening in the polls based on a batch of national surveys. In fact, according to the NYT, Joe Biden leads by 10 percentage points!

Fox News also shows Biden with a 10 point lead in swing-states like Arizona, and 4 points in North Carolina. Only Monmouth University shows a tighter spread of 2 points. Finally, Rasmussen Reports has a 4 point lead in Ohio for Biden.

Interestingly, a polling firm called WeAskAmerica found a 5 point lead for Trump in the state of Missouri. It was the only firm and race where President Trump showed to have a lead. Looking back from August 5th to now, overwhelmingly the polls favor Joe Biden.

By all accounts, it looks like Joe Biden has the election in the bag. Yet, it doesn’t really feel that way. I know we’re still a few months out from the election and there is a lot that can happen. But one would expect a little more coming out of the Biden campaign considering what’s at stake.

Also, in a broader sense, I think it’s fair to say finding reliable reporting is harder to come by these days. Stories can take on wildly different interpretations depending on the outlet. Therefore, an alternative is needed.

What Are the Odds?

Thankfully, we have Las Vegas. A town where a person can put their hard-earned cash on the line to win based on nothing more than what they think. No ideology. No feelings. Just a desire to win.

And like anything else in Las Vegas, there are bets placed on who will be the next President of the United States. By looking at the odds on sites like Bovada, we can see Joe Biden and Donald Trump are tied.

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Strangely, people are betting on Michelle Obama and Kanye West. Yet to their credit, they probably didn’t wager much. Plus with the way 2020 is going, I wouldn’t be surprised if the DNC knee capped poor Joe and threw a hail mary pass to Mrs. Obama for the touchdown. A big win for the imaginative.

Now to make sure there isn’t any confusion let’s talk about how to read betting charts, also known as American Odds.

Positive odds represent the profit a bettor will receive if they bet $100. So in the example above, if someone bets $50 on Michelle Obama and she wins, they receive $5,000 or half of 10,000. Meaning, fewer people are betting on those odds (because it’s a long shot.)

Negative odds numerically represent what a bettor would need to bet to win a $100. So if the New York Times wanted to put its money where its mouth is betting Joe Biden will win, they would have to bet $120 to make a profit of $100. Meaning a lot of people are betting he’s going to win.

And right now, people think Donald Trump is just as likely to win them a little extra money on November 3rd.

Let’s Breakdown News Polls & Why They Don’t Work

I’ll be honest, this section is going to be somewhat speculative in nature, but hopefully, the logic will hold strong and there will be enough reliable evidence to support some of the thought processes.

The biggest factor in my eyes why polling data from institutions from The New York Times or Fox or the like is ideological positions. For example, it seems like NYT has partnered with a survey firm called SurveyMonkey, and here is a question they ask people: Which of the following comes closest to your view on healthcare, even if none is exactly correct?

I’m no expert, but the wording seems to offer a lot of leeway in terms of how someone will decide to answer. It goes on to give a few choices to choose from, but the point is the accuracy of information doesn’t have an incentive for honesty built into the system.

Speaking of honesty, my second reason for not trusting the polls is I don’t think people will admit who they’ll vote for to some random person over the phone collecting information on them. I wouldn’t talk to pollsters.

The silent majority theory was probably true to some degree, and if anything, may have only increased since the shame for voting Republican increased too. Yet, I doubt people are looking at cities being burned and thinking, I don’t want Joe Biden conceding to rioters.

Compare this to betting, where people are putting money on the line for what they think is going to happen. The questioning is pretty clear: do you believe X will happen or Y will happen? And then it’s like someone saying, “Now prove how much you believe that.” No judgment, just gambling.

An argument can be made that surveys provide a greater level of detail like race, gender, geography, and other identifiers. Except for our purposes, none of that really matters. I just want to know where the wind is blowing.


If you’re looking for a reliable way of judging the state of the nation. Specifically, who will win the Presidential election, check out sites like Bovada, or Vegas Election Odds, it’s all pretty interesting. There are even bets placed on which party will win, who will win which states, and more.

When looking at the big news stations say Biden leads by 4 points here and 7 points there, especially after 2016, a healthy dose of skepticism sets in and it’s time to turn to alternative data.

Vegas has the two candidates in a dead heat. Pretty rare if you consider how often two racehorses are ever given the exact same odds of winning. If you had to put money down to vote, who would you bet on?

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