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The odds of a second term? You can bet on all things Trump

March 23, 2017 at 6:25 PM EDT
The political prediction markets -- where you can bet real money on political outcomes -- have a track record of being better than any poll, yet they failed spectacularly in the November election. Even so, people are flocking to bets about the Trump administration, including the president's odds of winning a second term and even his impeachment. Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: President Trump is not only dominating the news here in the United States. His agenda, and his style of governing, is even the subject of betting markets, of all things.

Our economics correspondent, Paul Solman, recently traveled to Dublin to meet with Ireland’s most visible bookie about all things Trump.

It’s part of our weekly series Making Sense.

PAUL SOLMAN: So how is the Trump action?

PADDY POWER, Paddy Power: Pretty nonstop. I mean, he is literally top story in the news every single night, still.

PAUL SOLMAN: The political prediction markets, where you can bet real money on an almost endless variety of political outcomes. Well, the betting is heavier than ever these days on Donald Trump.

Even here in Ireland?

PADDY POWER: Even here in Ireland.

PAUL SOLMAN: That’s Paddy Power of the eponymous Irish online betting site Paddy Power, a legal bookmaker which took a very visible million-dollar loss this fall when it paid off on bets for Hillary Clinton, an 85 percent favorite, to win the presidency, 20 days before Donald Trump won.

PADDY POWER: We decided to pay out on Clinton early, and we got that completely wrong, obviously. So, got Brexit completely wrong.

PAUL SOLMAN: Now we have been covering various political prediction markets as a successful example of applied economics since the 2004 Bush-Kerry presidential campaign, when we featured New Yorker economics columnist James Surowiecki on the sidewalks of New York crowdsourcing a guesstimate of the number of jelly beans in this jar.

WOMAN: Five hundred.

MAN: How many did you say?

WOMAN: Ten thousand.

WOMAN: Ten thousand.

PAUL SOLMAN: Ten thousand.

As wildly divergent as the guesses were, their average was eerily close to the real number, 1,350.

Surowiecki was touting the so-called wisdom of crowds, the theoretical advantage of markets and their supposed collective best guesses, which we cover here with the usual stock footage. And he cited the historical accuracy of the Iowa Electronic Markets, which have allowed political betting, for research purposes, since 1988.

JAMES SUROWIECKI, The New Yorker: Historically, the election eve forecast in this market has only been off by 1.4 percent, which is better than any poll.

PAUL SOLMAN: Better than any poll. That’s been the track record of all the prediction markets pretty much forever. Study them, said market expert David Rothschild during last year’s campaign:

DAVID ROTHSCHILD, PredictWise: And you see something that is more accurate than any collection of pundits or statistical polling averages, and extremely well-calibrated.

PAUL SOLMAN: But what’s remarkable is that, even though prediction markets failed so spectacularly on Trump, bettors are flocking to them as never before. That’s why I asked Paddy Power for a quick chat in downtown Dublin.

PADDY POWER: We have actually launched a new betting hub, purely dedicated to Trump.

PAUL SOLMAN: A betting hub?

PADDY POWER: Yes, literally a micro-site, a Trump micro-site.

PAUL SOLMAN: A Trump micro-site? And so how many bets can you make on Trump?

PADDY POWER: There’s 100 open bets on Trump, different markets on Trump at the moment. The politics trader literally can’t handle the volume, so we’re hiring a Trump betting expert at the moment.

PAUL SOLMAN: That’s because, when it offers a bet like next member of the Trump administration to resign or get sacked — it’s Jeff Sessions at 2- 1 — Paddy Power needs an expert to set the opening odds. If they’re too far away from what bettors are likely to think, Paddy could lose its shirt.

PADDY POWER: We’re advertising for some kid out of college, hopefully, a political graduate or whatever, to become an expert on Trump, all things Trump. They’re going to manage our Trump betting, because it’s literally millions of dollars.

PAUL SOLMAN: What are the odds of him being impeached, not convicted, but impeached before four years? Is that the bet?

PADDY POWER: Yes. That’s the bet. That’s the main bet, the most popular one. At the moment, he’s 6-4, and that means he’s about 40 percent likely. The odds would suggest it’s 40 percent likely he’s impeached in his first term, yes.

PAUL SOLMAN: So what’s an odds-on favorite at this point with regard to Trump, that is more than 50 percent likely, according to the prediction markets, to happen?

PADDY POWER: Well, it’s more than 50 percent likely that he won’t see a second term, right? It’s more than 50 percent that he’s going to see his first term out, though, that he will get there in the end.

PAUL SOLMAN: Power showed me the latest odds on some of the other Trump bets as well.

Two-thirds chance that he will start building the wall.

PADDY POWER: In 2017.

PAUL SOLMAN: In 2017.

PADDY POWER: Yes.

PAUL SOLMAN: But you need to consult the Web site itself for the very latest odds.

On Mexico, funding the wall. When will Sean Spicer leave or get sacked as White House press secretary? U.S. Congress inquiry to officially declare that Obama ordered a wiretap of phones in Trump Tower.

It’s the Irish, like those walking past us on Grafton Street, making real money Trump bets and presumably taking the odds seriously.

But there’s no reason at this point, is there, for me or anybody in the audience to believe these odds?

PADDY POWER: No, absolutely not. We have been wrong, so wrong.

PAUL SOLMAN: So, why have prediction markets failed as abysmally as they have?

PADDY POWER: I think — I have been thinking about this a lot, because it is — it is a head-scratcher.

PAUL SOLMAN: But Mr. Power does have a theory.

PADDY POWER: We’re just behind. The world is slowly going bonkers, all around the world, because you can see the way the political structure is just changing everywhere.

I think it’s just taking us a bit of time to catch up with that, because we still look at — like, we look at form. Like, in sports betting, you look at form and what’s happened before.

PAUL SOLMAN: Is this a horse that generally wins?

PADDY POWER: Yes, exactly, or if this team always wins at home or whatever it might be. And when you look at the form, like that’s literally ripped up and thrown out the window on this occasion, you know?

PAUL SOLMAN: Or, with Donald Trump, and so many other political phenomena these days, if you will forgive the rather obvious cliche, all bets are off.

Economics correspondent Paul Solman, reporting for the PBS NewsHour from Grafton Street in Dublin, Ireland.

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