Four years ago, bettors and political pundits stood side by side with jaws on the ground, as Donald Trump pulled off one of the biggest betting upsets in history en route to becoming President of the United States.
However, the wild swing in political betting odds toward Trump in 2016 – who went from a +400 underdog to -10,000 favorite on Election Day – pales in comparison to the roller-coaster ride the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election odds have gone on in the past two days.
Democrat Joe Biden entered November 3 as a -250 favorite to win the presidency (Trump +188) and would move to as big as a +350 underdog late Tuesday (Trump -500) before overnight results and betting action swung the odds back in his favor, with Biden climbing as high as -500 Wednesday afternoon (Trump +350).
It was, and continues to be, the wildest fluctuation in political betting history and we recap the reasons for those massive line moves with intel from the biggest political betting sportsbooks in the business.
2020 Presidential Election Odds synopsis
Going into Election Day on Tuesday, Joe Biden was in the range of a -200 to -250 favorite, depending on where you shopped with legal, regulated sportsbooks in the United Kingdom and Ireland, or with unregulated offshore operators. And while there was some shifting toward Trump throughout the day, as polls began closing Tuesday night, any of those moves had already shifted back to the pre-Tuesday odds for Biden.
Then at 7:15 p.m. ET, bettors – and oddsmakers – got a first glimpse of what we are all in for, even if just for a few minutes. One prominent offshore book moved to Biden -170/Trump +150, the closest the odds had been in weeks.
“Way too low. We got hit by sharps up to -215,” the offshore book’s spokesperson told Covers at the time.
But it turned out to be a move just slightly ahead of its time. By 8 p.m. ET, Ireland/UK bookmakers and the offshore markets were all in the range of Biden -135/Trump +110. By 9:20 p.m. ET, with Trump looking good in Florida, the line flipped to Trump -125/Biden even money, and by 10 o’clock ET, Trump was out to -275.
Over the next 30 minutes, Trump stretched to a stunning -400 at Ladbrokes in the UK, before dialing back to -300, with Biden a +225 underdog.
And then it all got really interesting. Arizona was called in favor of Biden, marking the first state to flip from its 2016 election result. Trump tumbled from -300 to -175, while Biden improved from +225 to +125 at Ladbrokes.
“There were a few significant price-moving events,” Ladbrokes political trader Matthew Shaddick said. “A lot of this has to do with the order and speed that results were declared. So, Florida will probably turn out to be one of the worst results for Biden vs. expectations, and that was the first big indicator. So people assumed – not unreasonably – that this was going to be a big upset.
“But if, say, the timing were different and Arizona declared first, the whole psychology of people’s expectations through the night would have been totally different.”
Over the next few hours, Trump remained a favorite in the -200 range at most shops, but it was clear there would not be a winner Tuesday night or even early Wednesday morning. Then, as the sun came up on the East Coast and the UK was at mid-morning, yet another seismic shift took root.
By 8 a.m. ET, Biden was a bigger favorite than he’d ever been, sitting -350 at Ladbrokes, with Trump +250. By 11:30 a.m. ET, Paddy Power, an Ireland and UK bookmaker, was up to Biden -500/Trump +350 and an hour later was at Biden -600/Trump +400.
“A very long roller-coaster ride. It’s changed completely overnight. I’m not deluded enough to call it ‘magical,’ but it fits in with this topsy-turvy election,” Paddy Power head of PR Lee Price said, before pointing out that the massive shift had multiple components, including bets coming in and updated vote tabulations. “A combination for sure. But also our own version of projecting. As the count continued, a clearer picture emerged of the true lay of the land.”
A similar situation was unfolding at Ladbrokes, with Shaddick saying the huge Tuesday night swing was aided by bettors jumping on the Trump train as momentum swung, then doing likewise Wednesday as Biden began to reassert himself as a favorite. The Florida and Arizona calls were pivotal.
“Mostly, everything was driven by the timing of the result declarations,” Shaddick said. “It turned out the best news for Biden – some of which was predictable – has turned out to be late.”
It’s still not over, although as of 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, Biden stood as -400 chalk at Ladbrokes, with Trump +250.
Bettor Keeps Composure
Robert Barnes is a longtime savvy political bettor, having made out very well on Trump in 2016 at the UK sportsbooks, and he’s well invested in 2020, too. He’s on Trump again to win, which may or may not turn out well for him. While the past 24 hours have been emotional for many, that’s not been the case for Barnes.
“The emotional self-regulation comes from shifting perspective: focus on whether the bet is good to buy or sell at that moment, based on available information, and it allows you to escape the emotions of a fan,” Barnes said Wednesday afternoon, before expanding on how he analyzed and reacted to the past day. “I advised those in a live chat last night to sell Trump bets when he hit over 80 percent in the betting markets, because you can lock in your profits.”
And while the volatility of the past 24 hours was new and stomach-churning for many, Barnes wasn’t caught off guard, drawing on very recent previous experience.
“No surprise on the volatility. The same thing happened in 2018, when I recommended folks sell the House GOP bet when it went from 30 percent to 50 percent on election night,” Barnes said, alluding to Republicans ultimately losing the House in 2018.
He then pointed the opposite way, to what was thought to be a dead political bet in 2016 that proved worth buying low and stunningly cashed out.
“Brexit itself dropped to 10 percent on election night,” Barnes said. “It reflects the difficulty bettors have reading the early results, and their meaning.”
This time around, Barnes might not cash on Trump to remain in the White House. But he spread around wagers that cashed in the individual state markets – Iowa, Ohio, Texas and Florida – along with winning several Senate and House bets.
“It looks like I will have another profitable election season, even if Trump doesn’t win,” Barnes said. “One thing is certain: the polls were not even close to right.”
Where can I bet on US Presidential Election Odds?
Not all books are allowed to offer wagering on U.S. politics. Check out the best sportsbooks available where you live and see what special and political betting options they have available.