Bookmakers from around the world – which lay down how much is paid to the occurrence of an event, assessing the degree of probability – have been watching with great attention the first Clinton-Trump debate. But in the evening of Monday September 26th, when Donald Trump and the ex-First Lady were leaving the Great Hall of Hofstra University, the outcome of the US Election of 2016 was still substantially unpredictable.
That seemed not to be the case a few weeks ago. Already immediately after the the former First Lady’s victory on Bernie Sanders in the March 1st Supertuesday, when the leading candidate of the Democratic Party was able to secure most of the States at stake (7 out of 11), bookmakers offered Clinton winning at 1.50 (-200 in American betting language) giving her favored in the race for the presidential against all the other candidates, both Democratic and Republicans. While Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s only antagonist, was given at 30.00, Clinton was at 2.00 in the odds for the Presidency established by Bovada sportsbook (one of the giants online bookmakers, which attracts most of the bets of the US market); odds shown for the first time on June 30, 2015. On the eve of the Hofstra University confrontation, Clinton had therefore already seen a substantial decline of her odd.
In retrospect, this appears rational, if one stresses that on March 1st, in the Republican round of primaries, Trump as well had established itself with an equally striking result (7 States out of 11). But the bookmakers would not believe in his exploit proposing his victory at 3.00 (+200, from now we’ll convert all odds to the decimal Europe standard). The result, however, allowed Trump to place itself right after Clinton, in second place on the podium ahead of all the other candidates.
As far as the Republican Primaries were concerned, the bookmakers had interpreted properly the mechanisms of this presidential race, leaving all the other contenders at the start. After Supertuesday Marco Rubio, Trump’s main rival, was given to 24.00). That was a dramatic change since November 2015, when the bookies had not had the same foresight, or had at least underestimated the Trump phenomenon. When Clinton, as we mentioned earlier, it was offered to 2.00, the New York tycoon was still an underdog, offered winning at 25.00. In case of victory Trump could therefore have pulled off a remarkable result and, on the eve of the elections, totally unpredictable, comparable – in the field of soccer – to the incredible victory of the Ranieri’s Leicester City in the past British Premier League.
Subsequently, the spread between the two top seeds had gone gradually leveling off until May 19 , when Trump for the first time overtook Clinton in the official surveys, by 0.2 percentage points (43.4 against 43.2) . The same phenomenon recurred three days later, on May 22, circumstance that created a certain apprehension in the former First Lady’s entourage and saw the bookies forced to shorten the margin of the Republican candidate on the Democratic one, the former being offered winner at 2.90 against 1.45 of the rival (the lowest margin since the opening of the bets on Bovada).
The MailGate bomb that allowed Trump, on July 27, to overcome Clinton for the first time in the official polls by a full percentage point (44.6 against 43.6) did not shock bookmakers too much, not only on that occasion, but also after the test of the two candidates in Ohio (one of the key swing states in the logics of the US elections), and again after Labor Day. They were instead forced to shorten the gap between the two on September 7, when the polls that gave Trump leading by two points, and the consequent flow of bets on Trump’s winning, pushed Bovada to lower the odds of the Republican candidate from 3.40 of the previous day to 2.95, changing upward Clinton’s ones, from 1.33 to 1.40, on September 6th.
Just four days earlier, the publication by the FBI of the 58-page dossier with Clinton’s interrogation summaries published, and numerous faults in the testimony of the former first lady (and the fact that the Republicans had called for a reopening of the case), had spread the feeling of a break in the balances between the two candidates.
Odds as well as the polls suffered further shocks after Clinton fainted during the September 11 ceremony, and the alleged pneumonia that forced the former first lady to an three days interruption of her campaign. While on PaddyPower the possibility of a Trump victory became an increasingly likely hypothesis (September 14, three days after the 9/11 ceremony, the New York tycoon dropped to 2.50 while the Clinton rose to 1.53, on September 18 and 19th the polls witnessed a gap of only 0.9 percentage points between the two candidates (44.00 to 44.9), margin that had probably become substantially smaller after the bomb attacks in New York and New Jersey in the evening September 18, allowing the Republican candidate, who has always put the fight against terrorism on top of his campaign, to make another step forward compared to his main opponent.
Moreover, on September 20th, Clinton has also canceled a fundraising rally organized at Chapel Hill in North Carolina, an episode that has aroused the concerns of many analysts, suspicious of the lack of official justifications by Clinton’s entourage. This however, has not been visible in the polls that are in fact gradually came to favor the former first lady by climbing over two percentage points (the higher distance since last week has been registered on September 25, 46.5 against 43.4, +3.1 percentage points).
On September 26th, the Hofstra University first “live duel” between the two candidates, seen by something like 100 million American viewers, as well as worldwide, has given the impression that Clinton had beaten Trump. Even the odds seem to give a new little advantage to the democratic candidate. On the following day it was thus possible to find the Democratic Party winning at 1.40, with a small decrease from Sunday’s 1.46. On the other side, the Republican Party has seen its odd raise at 2.80 from the 2.75 of the previous Sunday. In Europe as well, after last debate, PaddyPower seems to follow media rumors giving Clinton a consistent advantage from 1.50 to 1.44 while Trump’s odds lengthened to 2.30 from 2.25.
These little odds changes were coherent with polls, where Real Clear Politics seems to give Clinton with a little advantage +2,4, while some other newspaper give Trump with a large advantage (for example +3 on the LA times).
A more detailed analysis of Trump’s debate strategies would however lead to thinking that he’s trying to persuade the moderate section of the electorate. He has started to be more soft-spoken, with clearly less aggressive tones, stressing the need to return to “law and order”, trying to bring undecided to his cause. At the same time, he seems to keep his hold on his most passionate supporter, as the US social networks show a large diffusion of the #TrumpWon hashtag just after Tuesday’s debate.
All the media are stressing the crucial importance of the next debate between the two candidates, which will take place at Washington University in Missouri, next Sunday, October 9, with the final public debate is set for Wednesday, October 19 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The two candidates will be again live on television trying to score a decisive victory. At Hofstra University, at first sight, the favor comes to the Democratic candidate. However, given previous experiences, and given the rumors about a new Trump strategy, the game seems to be absolutely wide open.
A bit of caution is however indispensable before accepting the very widespread opinion that the two candidates are neck to neck, After the debate at Hofstra University, the former First Lady is probably leading the race. But the entire media system has a vested interest in giving the impression that Clinton and Trump are virtually in a tie, as the idea that the struggle will have a photo-finish will, in the next two months, stimulate the interest of the public and increase the demand for information.
Returning to the bets, it still seems extremely difficult to make a prediction on who could be the 58th President of the United States. Some factors would appeal for caution, and certainly advise against any wagerer from placing a bet on the Democratic candidate, bet, perhaps, encouraged by media’s rumors. Too many variables can still be decisive in this race for the White House.
A factor that has lost most of its relevance with the September 26 debate is the one related to the #HillarysHealth hashtag. Her conditions had long been supposed to be precarious, but her performance was surprisingly good for somebody that the entire nation had seen being taken away from the 9/11 celebration ceremony as a dead corpse, and have added new credibility to those observers that have consistently considered the rumors about the First Lady’s health to be only speculation viciously spread by the other side in order to influence the upcoming November vote.
Still, it is a fact that Clinton has suffered two thromboses in the past years, and in January 2013, after fainting and knocking her head of the floor she had to be hospitalized for a blood clot that had formed between the skull and the brain. It would seem that the candidate is fit to this kind of accident, and suffering from high blood pressure and heart failure. Recently, during a press conference, while she was hounded by three reporters of the Associated Press, the 68 yo former First Lady seems to have had some sort of seizure, and that something similar has happened again, at a convention in Nevada. All elements that have prompted several conspiracy theorists to cast a shadow on the Clinton race to the White House.
In recent days, a media grapevine that has spread on Twitter via the #HillarysBodyDouble ashtag saw several users wonder about the possibility that the candidate for the White House has hired a body double to replace her in case of health problems. Indeed, a few hours after she had fainted at the o9/11 ceremony, her aides took the serious step of canceling the campaign events scheduled in California for the following Monday and Tuesday, in sharp contradiction with her appearing fresh and smiling outside her daughter’s New York apartment. Even unbiased observers could not fail to notice the strangeness of the event because Clinton – or his body double – made her appearance in public without any aide or bodyguards at his side (a really baffling fact, as she is a candidate to the White House and that she could have had a further fainting). A British newspaper, the Daily Mail has raised the level of rumors about she having a body double, even going as far as identifying her with 61 year old Teresa Barnwell. Even more extreme is the hypothesis, assumed by other conspiracy theorists, that the rally in Greensboro on September 15 could be a sham completely crafted with paid actors to attend a mock election event, bringing different evidence for the possible “fake” meeting such as can be seen in the video below:
An indirect, and possibly more serious damage to Clinton the candidate comes from the way her campaign reacts to the rumors. Immediately after the accident at the 9/11 Ceremony, indeed, not only there was her strange re-appearance in front of her daughter’s residence bur also the official announcement that two days earlier she had been diagnosed pneumonia. This fits with the repeated coughing crises she has suffered all along the last few months, but doesn’t provide any specification about which of the three types of this illness it was. If one rules out the hypothesis that it is a consequence of some degenerative disease that would make her unfit to be President, the only other possibility is that of a contagious pneumonia. In this case, however, the question could be raised why, of all possible places, she was taken to her daughter home, where there was a newly born baby, which could suffer lethal consequences from contagion.
And why, when strangely reappearing in public a few hours later, was she allowed to have contacts with a young girl? Moreover, if she knew she had pneumonia, how could one explain all the embracing and kissing that took place when she arrived at the 9/11 ceremony? Strange inconsistencies, that strongly reduce the credibility of her entire communication apparatus.
All these factors, real or fake, impact very little on the polls. But they are inevitably taken into consideration when betting. One could indeed seriously consider accepting the proposition by Paddy Power (an Irish bookmaker, and one of the most popular in Europe), and point to a possible withdrawal of Clinton, due to medical problems, (offered – as recently as September 27 – on WilliamHill at 7.00, while it was at 21.00 two weeks ago) or Trump’s withdrawal.
He might indeed – at least, so the rumor goes – for reasons of personal interests, ultimately decide to make a step aside, or could be killed by an assassin: assumptions listed at 15.00 (which means that the hypothesis is not considered very i probable). It is however unclear whether in case of one of the two candidates ‘s death the bookies would be willing to pay or to refund refund the wagered amounts.
The fact that the same bookmaker also proposes Sanders, (which by now is – or should be – just an outsider) at 33.00 (he was at 67.00 just two weeks ago) can not fail to excite the imagination of an external observer. Is it also impossible to run out, in case of further twists, the hypothesis of a new competitor, such as Vice President Joe Biden that in recent days has also leapfrogged Sanders in the odds (on Sept 27, he was offered at 25.00).
The advice of most expert bookmakers give at this stage is not to waste money in the Clinton-Trump Presidential challenge, not only because of the lack of information that prevents any serious discussion about Clinton’s pneumonia and poisons the #HillarysHealth battle of twitters, but also because of the uncertainty created by the most remarkable decline in support suffered by the two main parties in recent American history. If one really wants to play, the expert’s suggestion is to just choose between Democrats and Republicans, knowing that with the former is ahead and given winning at 1.47 (down from 1,40 two weeks ago) against 2.75 of the latter (up from 2,95) (Bovada odds).