It is fair to object to presidential campaign coverage that comes down solely to an assessment of who’s likely to win. There’s an exciting element to tracking raw poll data, sure, as there is in watching an National Basketball Association game that doesn’t involve the New York Knicks. But coverage that’s centered on that contest — on that horse race, as they say — is not useful for readers or voters or, really, anyone.
Particularly now. We’re still about a year from the start of the primaries, much less the general election. The dynamics of a race change so frequently this far out that we created a daily tool showing who was leading at this point in past presidential contests. For example: At this point in 2016, former Florida governor Jeb Bush led the Republican field, as he would for another week. As a reminder: He did not win.
But that raw head-to-head contest can be intoxicating. It’s like watching the returns come in on election night, watching with rapt attention the number of precincts reporting ticking up even as you realize that the increases tell you little to nothing. So let’s dive right into it; let’s embrace the raciness of the horse race. Let’s get crazy.
Basing a horse race on polling isn’t terribly rewarding. It would be like an NBA game in which the court was 360 miles long so that players had to take a Greyhound from one end to the other before they could score more points. If we’re going to mainline a head-to-head contest, we need something more high-frequency.
Enter PredictIt, a real-time prediction market that allows users to put money on the outcome of an event, such as a presidential primary. In any given minute, people are buying or selling shares in the likelihood that various people will win that election — regardless of whether they’ve declared. That gives us a very nice precincts-coming-in way of seeing how things are shaking out right at this minute (before everything inevitably changes completely).
And so: The past two-plus hours of PredictIt prices. These roughly correlate to percentages of likelihood, so we’ve gone ahead and converted the figures to percentages. And then we put them in little lanes on a fake track. And then we added an option to make it look as though they’re wiggling around as they run down that track to the finish.
That, my friends, is horse race coverage of the Democratic presidential primary. Like a real horse race, you’re not going to know much about the winner 14 seconds after the horses leave the gate. But it can be fun to watch.