For the last few months, I've watched people obsessively parse the various polls; trying to winnow meaning, intention and possible results from the (often wildly at variance) polls...and you know what? It's a waste of time; interesting, but a waste of time. Not to mention emotionally draining, given the often startling apparent swings.
But the truth is: this election is already done. Don't get me wrong: I'm no friend to complacency. But when the bookmakers and handicappers at William Hill and Ladbrokes (the UK's largest bookmakers) are offering President Obama at 1 to 5 on (not to be confused with 5 to 1) vs. Romney at 100 to 30...friends, it's time to relax.
More beneath the toxic croissant of Boehner Orange® salmonella
For those of you who aren't familiar with betting odds, what this means is that a $10 bet on Obama to win will net you $12: your initial $10 bet plus a $2 win. That same $10 bet on Romney will return $43.43: your initial $10 bet plus a $33.43 win.
If a million people bet $10 on Romney to win, it would cost the bookies $33.43 million if Romney won...and the one thing bookies are really good at is not losing money. They very rarely do...and they almost never call an election wrong.
In 2008, University of Arizona economist Paul Rhode and University of Kansas professor of economics Koleman Strumpf published a study in The Journal of Economic Perspectives entitled Historical Presidential Betting Markets (to download their paper as a .pdf CLICK HERE) that demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt the innate superiority of the betting market's forecasting prowess.
The study looked at America's long history of betting on political contests. This exploded in the 1880s when betting moved from poolrooms and saloons to New York City's so-called 'Curb Exchange', the forerunner of the Stock Exchange. Betting on election results frequently pulled enormous crowds to Wall Street and outpaced trading in stocks and bonds.
"In presidential races such as 1896, 1900, 1904, 1916, and 1924, the New York Times, Sun, and World provided nearly daily [betting] quotes from early October until Election Day," wrote Strumpf and Rhode.
The papers' sources were betting firms. These firms had men present at speeches made by the candidates, tasked with making "unbiased reports of the psychological reactions of the audiences."
In the fifteen elections between 1884 and 1940, the betting firms were wrong just once: in 1916, when Woodrow Wilson narrowly won the election, defeating Republican candidate Charles Evans Hughes.
And (according to Strumpf and Rhode) the gamblers might have had a perfect record had the Curb Market stayed open long enough to take into account late-breaking news from the West.
The study judges that the advent of polls marked the end of an era.
"Prior to Gallup's introduction in 1936, newspapers had little else to report about the election horserace other than the betting markets. When scientific polls came along, newspapers had something to report other than markets they were oftentimes uncomfortable with."
Responding to such 'moral' discomfort, states increasingly banned organized election betting. I hardly need add that gambling, including on elections, persisted. Owing to official attitudes, however, little US election betting data exists from 1940 through 1984, though there is enough for Strumpf and Rhode to conclude that gamblers were more accurate than the pollsters over that period as well.
The advent of internet betting offers an unequivocal picture: "Since 1988, the betting markets have definitely been more accurate" the study concludes.
It's simple: the pollsters can and frequently do get it wrong, for all sorts of varying reasons. But it doesn't matter: they still get paid.
Bookies don't have that luxury; if they get it wrong, it can cost them tens of millions of dollars (or a long, not-so-refreshing-dip in the East River wearing cement overshoes).
Which is why they almost never get it wrong.
So relax; pour a drink; smoke if you've got 'em...and enjoy the sight of Rmoney, Lyin' Ryan and the odious vermin of today's Republican Party swirl around history's toilet-bowl as the people flush them down the tube.
I was predicting a landslide, for President Obama and for the Democrats, 2 months ago. I'm even more certain of it now.