Hillary Rodham Clinton had a brutal summer-long news cycle that has bled into fall. She has lost ground to Bernie Sanders in Democratic primary polls, and she may draw a new and formidable challenger, Vice President Biden, in the coming days.
Despite all that, she's still the candidate you'd bet on at even odds to be the next president, no matter what your personal views. It's not even a close call.
If you had to bet $100 on any single person to win the 2016 general election — to win $100 if you guess correctly — every rational gambler would chose Clinton. According to online betting markets, she remains the overwhelming favorite to win the nomination of the Democratic Party, which is the party that is favored to win the general election. There is no clear favorite in the very crowded field for the Republican nomination. As such, bettors see Clinton as more than four times as likely to be the next president as her closest rival, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
The real question about your presidential bet right now isn't whether you'd take Clinton above anyone else. It's whether you'd take her over everyone else combined.
If you had that $100 again and one of two choices, which would you choose? Clinton wins? Or, "the field" — any other American except Clinton — wins?
A quick read of the odds rounded up by PredictWise suggest you should take the field, barely. They give Clinton a 47 percent chance, as of the afternoon of Oct. 19, of winning the 2016 general election.
Those odds might be too low for Clinton, however. Academic research has found that betting markets tend to underrate the chances of big favorites to win elections, while overrating long shots. PredictWise tries to adjust for that bias, but, in this case, some of that bias may still be seeping through, says Justin Wolfers, a University of Michigan economist who was one of the authors of the betting markets research.
As Wolfers explains in detail in an e-mail:
The favorite tends to win in betting markets more often than indicated by the odds. So if the markets say she's a 47% chance to be president, history suggests that the true odds are a bit better than that.
But it's worth breaking this race down into the two steps of the process: There's the question of whether Clinton will win the nomination, and then upon having won the nomination, whether the Democrats will win the general election.
It's the race for the nomination where Clinton is the overwhelming favorite — online bookies rate her about a 75% chance … to be the Democratic nominee — and this favorite-longshot bias is most acute when you're a strong favorite. As such, history suggests that Clinton is substantially more likely to win the nomination than markets currently suggest. The bias may be as large as ten percentage points, suggesting that she's an 85 percent chance to win the nomination.
As to whether the Democratic or Republican nominee will win the race, bookies currently give the Democrats a slight edge — suggesting that they're around a 55 percent chance to win, versus 45 percent for the Republicans. That's a close enough race that while the Democrats are the favorite, the odds aren't much biased. My back-of-the-envelope correction suggests that maybe the true odds are 58 percent instead.
Put these numbers together, and there's about a 49 percent chance that Mrs. Clinton is our next President. ...
There's another way to get at this though, which is simply to ask whether the odds make sense. I think the idea that Clinton is only a 75 percent chance to win the nomination is nuts — she's essentially the only serious candidate running, and it's now clear that her campaign is not going to implode. With any candidate there are risks that secrets may come out, but with Mrs. Clinton, we've had several decades for them to surface. So my (personal!) judgment is that she is at least an 85 percent chance to win the nomination, and maybe 90 percent is a more realistic assessment.
Whether the Democrats will win the general election remains a much harder question. I don't think there's a strong reason to favor one party over the other, and the current odds which give the Democrats a slight lead seem reasonable, given the state of the economy.
So both my math, and my assessment of the race lead to the same conclusion: Mrs. Clinton is a near-certainty to win the Democratic nomination. And the Democrats are a bit better than a fifty percent chance to win the White House. Put these together, and it looks like Mrs. Clinton must be close to a fifty percent chance to be our next President.
Which means you could bet on her, or bet on everyone else, and spend the next 12-plus months equally worried about your money.