With the Democratic primary race heating up, the 2020 U.S. presidential election is right around the corner. Just as there are sports betting odds on who will win the Super Bowl, World Series, NCAA basketball tournament and more, you can also find futures odds on who will be the next President of the United States.
However, that doesn’t mean you can legally bet in the U.S. on the 2020 presidential election or other political markets/events, such as who will be the Democratic presidential nominee. Well, you can and you can’t. I know, it’s almost as confusing as U.S. politics itself. But that’s what this page is for.
We look at the history of political betting in the U.S., the legality of wagering on politics, and break down the current 2020 U.S. presidential field and odds, along with tips for profiting on the race for the presidency, come November 3, 2020.
History of U.S. presidential betting
All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. – Henry David Thoreau, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience
Betting on politics is nearly as old as politics itself. In sixteenth century-Italy, it was a common practice to bet on papal elections. In fact, wagers were often handled by the banking houses in Rome. Political futures markets were also popular in eighteenth-century Britain and Ireland, and maintain popularity today. In the U.S., election betting was particularly common before World War II, before the American public increasingly viewed such activity as unethical.
For the most part, political betting markets were used by newspapers as a way to forecast elections in the absence of scientific polling. According to economists Paul Rhode and Koleman Strumpf, election betting markets were remarkably prescient.
Can I legally bet on who will be president?
While you will find presidential odds at offshore sportsbooks and in the U.K. betting scene, don’t be mistaken. It is not (yet) legal to bet on who will be the next president at sportsbooks located and licensed in the United States. Legal online sports betting sites like FanDuel Sportsbook and DraftKings Sportsbook, among others are not allowed to post odds or take bets on political events such as the 2020 U.S. Presidential election.
Still itching to put down real money on who will be the next president? Don’t worry, there are legal alternatives that won’t require a trip across the pond.
Where I can I bet on politics online?
Though you won’t find odds to win the presidency at legal US sportsbooks, you can bet online using prediction markets like PredictIt and the Iowa Electronic Markets (IEM). In fact, with contract limits up to $500 at IEM and $850 at PredictIt, you can likely bet more on these sites than you would be able to elsewhere.
Why can PredictIt/IEM take political bets, but not US Sportsbooks?
Both PredictIt and Iowa Electronic Markets are not-for-profit real-money markets, operated for experimental research purposes, and thus have received no-action-letters from the Division of Trading and Markets of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
How to deposit and withdraw money at PredictIt
- Open an account at PredictIt. After providing the proper information, such as a username, email and password, it’s time to deposit money and start trading.
- Access your PredictIt Wallet or click on the Deposit link in the top right corner of PredictIt’s homepage. You can deposit using a credit card ($10 minimum) or with cash at a physical PayNearMe in your area.
- With cash in your account, the next step is to browse the available markets until you find something worth betting/predicting.
- Once you buy shares for or against an event taking place, you can either A) wait for the market to close, i.e., wait for the event or b) sell your shares before the event’s day if you want to lock in a profit or cut your losses.
- When you want to withdraw money simply return to your wallet, click on Withdraw and choose your preferred method: ACH (direct deposit to your bank account) or Check.
- All withdrawals are subject to 5% fees.
- Keep in mind, withdrawing funds could cancel some or all of your open offers.
How to deposit and withdraw money at the Iowa Electronic Markets
- Open an account at IEM to get detailed instructions about how to deposit your account by sending money to IEM, which includes an account activation form.
- There is a one-time service charge of $5 to activate your account.
- Once your account is activated (within 2 business days after submitting the registration form), you can invest anywhere from $5 to $500.
- If you go six months without logging in, you will be charged an inactivity fee of $5 or the balance in your account, whichever is lower.
- Read IEM’s Trader’s Manual to learn how to trade.
- Practice your trading skills before risking real money by trading in IEM’s Practice Markets.
Presidential betting odds explained
I’ve already referenced election betting as a type of futures bet. For those unfamiliar with the term, a futures bet is as it sounds: a bet that is determined by the outcome of a future event. When you see odds like the ones below, you’re betting on the moneyline for a particular candidate. That is, you’re betting on the candidate to win the election.
If you bet on Trump at -100, you will risk the same amount that you can profit. So If you bet $100 on Trump, and he wins, you profit $100. If you bet $100 on Bernie Sanders +1600, you are risking $100 to profit $1600.
However, as we already discussed, if you’re wagering legally in the U.S. then you’ll be wagering on PredictIt or IEM, where their prices are a bit different than what you see at sportsbooks. At PredictIt, shares of Donald Trump are 56 cents (c). For each Donald Trump share bought at this price, you are risking 56c to win a $1 (net profit: 44c per share). The share’s price is effectively what the market says its implied probability is. An implied probability of 56% is equivalent to -127 in traditional American betting odds.
Another example is Bernie Sanders who is 8c to win the 2020 U.S. presidency, which is close to +1150 odds (or 11.5-to-1). Keep in mind you don’t have to lock in your bet and wait until the outcome of the election if you’re wagering at these prediction markets. Instead, like trading stocks, you can try to buy low and sell high up until the market closes.
2020 U.S. presidential candidates and odds
All odds are courtesy of Ladbrokes, a UK sportsbook regulated by the British Gambling Commission for person gambling in Great Britain. (last updated Wednesday, May 5, 2020)
- Donald Trump (R) -110
- Joe Biden (D) +125
- Justin Amash (LP) +50000
Our OFFICIAL *unofficial* Nevada Caucus & Presidential odds are out! 🇺🇸☑️ pic.twitter.com/WCyNZ8jSS2— South Point Hotel (@southpointlv) February 19, 2020
Donald Trump – President Trump is historically unpopular, but as we learned four years ago, national polls aren’t the only things that matter. Trump entered election day as a major underdog in 2016. Even the more bearish models gave Trump merely a 29 percent chance — +245 in betting odds — of upsetting Hillary Clinton. Trump didn’t win the popular vote when he beat Hillary Clinton, but he did win key swing states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Trump has proven to be antifragile, a term coined by Nassim Taleb to describe things that gain from chaos or disorder.
Joe Biden: Joe Biden was the favorite to win the Democratic primary when he entered the race, but the former-VP took a dip in the polls early in 2020. It was a crowded field of moderates vying for the nomination, and despite his name recognition Biden struggled to excite primary voters. That all changed this week. Other candidates such as Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Mike Bloomberg saw the writing on the wall, ending their campaigns and subsequently endorsing the long-time politician. With moderates now united behind a single campaign, the nomination is Biden’s to lose.
Justin Amash (Libertarian Party): Michigan Rep. Justin Amash surfed the Tea Party wave to Congress in 2010, but broke ranks with the Republican Party by becoming the only GOP lawmaker in the House to vote to impeach President Trump. Congressman Amash subsequently left the GOP and has now decided to seek the Libertarian nomination. Amash doesn’t have a chance at winning the general election but he could play spoiler. However, whether he’ll spoil Trump or Biden’s presidential bid is up for debate. Historically, third-party candidates have hurt incumbents, which could spell bad news for the President. On the other hand, Amash will most likely have his biggest impact in Michigan, which is a must-win state for the Democrats. As FiveThirtyEight points out, the majority of voters prefer an alternative to Trump. If Amash wins over enough of these voters, it could lower Biden’s ceiling.
Candidates no longer in the race for president
Bernie Sanders: The Democratic-Socialist from Vermont took on the Democratic establishment in 2016. Despite losing, Sanders decided to run again in 2020, and things were going quite well for him. As little as two weeks ago Sanders was the prohibitive front-runner to win the Democratic nomination. The biggest obstacle for Sanders was always to get a majority of delegates at the Democratic National Convention. That task has become even more difficult with the consolidation of Democratic candidates in the days surrounding Super Tuesday. If Sanders somehow does win the nomination and then the general election in November 2020, the 78-year-old will be the oldest elected president in U.S. history.
Tulsi Gabbard: Gabbard is an anti-war gadfly from Hawaii, “standing against those in both parties who drag us from one war to the next in search of political gain.” Unfortunately for Gabbard, American voters aren’t motivated at the polls much by foreign policy.
Michael Bloomberg: (Note: Bloomberg dropped out of the race on March 4) The former mayor of New York City entered the U.S. presidential race late but picked up support quickly as he self-financed his campaign leading up to his first debate appearance. The appearance didn’t go as planned, with the majority of candidates seemingly ganging up on their new competitor. Bloomberg carries baggage beyond the controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy he supported as Mayor and the stench of being an “out of touch billionaire.” Can Bloomberg overcome troubling sexual assault allegations and prove he is the man to beat Trump?
Pete Buttigieg – (Note: Buttigieg dropped out of the race on March 2) “Mayor Pete” brings youth and charisma to the stage, and has managed to outlast the likes of Andrew Yang and Beto O’Rourke. His competitors say he lacks experience, only serving as a mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Pete’s main obstacle, however, is appealing to minority voters, which will ultimately prevent him from taking the next step in his 2020 presidential aspirations.
Amy Klobuchar – (Note: Klubacher dropped out of the race on March 2) Another female candidate that brings experience from the Senate, Klubacher hails from Minnesota. Unlike the next candidate, Klobuchar’s polling numbers were good enough to make the most recent debate. She’s likable and well-spoken, but she’s too far behind to catch up now.
Tom Steyer – (Note: Steyer dropped out of the race on February 29) Like Gabbard, Steyer missed the Nevada debate. Interestingly, Steyer’s poll numbers — 15 percent and 18 percent — in South Carolina have given him a path to the debate stage on Feb. 25th. Steyer isn’t a contender, but his presence in South Carolina and potentially in future states could hurt the moderates trying to take down the current Democratic front-runner, Bernie Sanders.
Elizabeth Warren: A lawyer and professor by trade, Warren rose to national prominence when Massachusetts elected her to the Senate in 2013. While not as eccentric as Sanders, Warren has been a progressive icon, railing against corporatism and greed. That might be why her campaign will soon be coming to an end. She’s too far to the left for moderates, and not far enough to the left to compete for Sanders’ supporters. Update (3/4): Sanders and Warren spoke on the phone Wednesday, one day after Super Tuesday. Warren failed to win a primary and even finished third in her home state of Massachusetts. Expect the senator to drop out of the race soon. The bigger question is who will she endorse, Biden or Sanders?
Important 2020 election dates and results
- Feb. 3 – Iowa Caucus: Sanders and Buttigieg tie, each receiving 26.2% of votes. Buttigieg comes out ahead with 13 delegates, Sanders 12, Warren 8 and Biden 6.
- Feb. 11 – New Hampshire Primary: Sanders (25.6%) narrowly beats Buttigieg (24.3%), but both receive 9 pledged delegates. Warren receives the other 6.
- Feb. 22 – Nevada Caucus: Sanders dominates the field, receiving 46.8% of votes and 24 delegates compared to Biden’s 9 and Buttigieg’s 3.
- Feb. 29 – South Carolina Primary: South Carolina primary debate is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 25. Per FiveThirtyEight, 46% of voters are considering voting for Sanders, while 38% are considering Biden. Nearly 67% have a favorable of Sanders before candidates take the debate stage Tuesday night.
- March 3 – Super Tuesday: With 14 states (plus one U.S. territory) holding primaries or caucuses, more than a third of all DNC delegates (1,357) are up for grabs on this day. Super Tuesday will be the final cut for many candidates. Those still standing will likely take their campaigns to the Democrat National Convention, which could be particularly eventful this year. If you’re on PredictIt, this is a great time to sell shares of candidates who you think will soon drop out. If you don’t have already have shares, you can also short candidates on Predictit’s trading platform. Update 3/4: Biden had a HUGE Super Tuesday, winning nine of 15 primary contests. Biden his now the favorite to win the Democrat nomination according to oddsmakers and prediction markets.
- March 10 – ID, MI, MO, OH, WA: Michigan and Ohio are each major swing states for the general election.
- June 2 – MT, NJ, NM, SD: This is the last multi-state primary. The nomination is usually wrapped up by this point, but June 2 could be more important in 2020 as the front-runner fights to have more than half of pledged delegates ahead of the Democratic National Convention.
- July 13-16 – Democratic National Convention: If you’re a sports bettor, think of this as the conference championship. The Democratic Party and its delegates will convene in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to select which candidate will take on Donald Trump in the 2020 general election. As alluded to earlier, the 2020 DNC could be historic. Currently, FiveThirtyEight says Sanders has a 47% chance of holding a majority of delegates. The second-most likely outcome is 41% chance for a brokered convention. The last time there was a brokered convention, where no candidate secured the nomination on the first ballot? 1952.
- August 24-27 – Republican National Convention: The second of two “conference championships”, Republicans will meet in Charlotte, N.C. to presumably confirm Donald Trump as the Republican nominee. At least this year, this will be less eventful than the DNC. Serving more as a rally for the incumbent president, Trump and others will give speeches laying out the Republican’s 2020 presidential campaign message and platform.
- November 3 – 2020 US Presidential Election: If the DNC and RNC are conference championships, then this is the Super Bowl. Voters will take to their polling places to vote on who they want to win the 2020 US Presidential Election. With 538 possible electoral votes, candidates need at least 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.
Presidential betting tips
Whether a friendly wager with an acquaintance or a position in prediction markets like PredictIt & IEM, here are some presidential betting tips to help you stay ahead of the curve during this election season.
- Incumbents’ edge? As we saw in 2012 when President Obama beat Mitt Romney, sitting presidents are hard to beat. Eight of the last ten incumbents have successfully won a second term. For the sports bettor, think of an incumbent’s edge as home-field advantage in a football game. Incumbent presidents have experience of winning before and already have a broad national platform, including name recognition and typically a dependable voting base.
- Ask yourself: If this, then what? One way to approach primary betting is by finding out who you think is likely to drop out, and what remaining candidate(s) are likely benefit as a result. An example we gave previously was as follows: Right now, the moderate wing of the Democrat Party is beating each other up. It is like when you put a running back and receiver from the same team in your DFS lineup. There’s only so much pie to go around…Bloomberg’s late entrance and subsequent rise have taken away part of the pie from Biden and Buttigieg. If Biden or Buttigieg drop out, to whom will their supporters go? They’ll likely support Bloomberg instead of Sanders. If you’re confident that Bloomberg will outlast Biden, then buying shares of Bloomberg in prediction markets could very well be profitable. The opposite is true if you think Biden will outlast Bloomberg.
And in less than a week of presenting that example, Bloomberg and Buttigieg both dropped out and subsequently endorsed Biden. Biden’s price at PredictIt soared as a result. The next candidate to drop out will be Elizabeth Warren. It is worth asking, to whom she will lend her support? If you think it will be Sanders, it might be profitable to short (selling) Warren’s shares to be the vice presidential nominee, which are currently 9c at PredictIt. If you think she will endorse Biden over Sanders — the latter of which she has had differences with this election — then might Warren be Biden’s potential running mate? The move could motivate the progressive wing of the Democratic Party that has grown sour on establishment candidates such as Biden.
- Keep up with current events. Will the expanding coronavirus pandemic help or hurt Trump?
- Stay a step (or two) ahead. When Bloomberg surged in the polls ahead of the Nevada caucus, we knew his Democratic competitors would attack the newcomer. Maybe you bought Bloomberg at 25c to win the nomination on PredictIt. The night before the debate Bloomberg was as high as 33c. Knowing Bloomberg was going to be the target of many attacks in his first debate might have been good justification for selling his shares and cashing in on some profit. As it turned out, Bloomberg was targeted heavily, specifically by Elizabeth Warren. His price to win the Democratic nomination was down to 18c as of Tuesday, February 25.
- React to news, quickly! Just like when an NBA star is unexpectedly ruled out before tip-off, If you’re paying attention to the news and you see something that you think will affect a market’s price, you want to react quickly.
- But don’t OVERREACT. See, Bloomberg might have been 19c but his price plummeted all the way down to 13c early in the debate when he was taking the brunt of Warren’s attack. The attack didn’t last forever, nor did Bloomberg’s fall. Bloomberg redeemed himself a bit on stage, and his price closed at 20c by the end of the night. If you sold your shares the night before, buying low in the middle of the debate would have been a good move. Of course, it is always easier to say in hindsight. Regardless, the Nevada debate is a good lesson on how volatile election markets can be.
Along with keeping up with current events, stay in tune with what other people are thinking. But if you’re in the business of making money, you don’t want to turn your Twitter feed and podcast library into echo chambers. Venture out, follow and listen to people with different political persuasions.
Twitter accounts to Follow
- Nate Silver – Editor-in-Chief, FiveThirtyEight (@538politics)
- G. Elliott Morris – Data-driven journalist, The Economist
- Decision Desk HQ – Non-partisan election news and analysis
- Zach Montellaro – Campaign report, Politico
- Morning Consult – Surveys and research data
- Nate Cohn – Covers elections and polling, New York Times
- Dave Wasserman – U.S. House editor, Cook Political Report
- Tyler Cowen – Economist at George Mason, Bloomberg.com contributor
- Paul Motty – Political betting analyst, BetFair
This page will be updated periodically throughout the 2020 U.S presidential election. Be sure to check back at US Bets for updates and more election betting tips!