Donald Trump continues to stagger in approval rating polls, hitting record lows that average well below 40 percent. But the conventional wisdom that his massive unpopularity will damage his odds for reelection in 2020 appears to be off the mark, according to not only one prominent Democratic strategist, but also to bettors who risk their cash wagering real money on politics.
In the United States, betting on political elections remains illegal — for the most part — but in the United Kingdom, wagering on politics is fair game. As a result, British and Irish betting shops regularly post odds for who will win the 2020 U.S. election. See one example, the Irish gambling firm Paddy Power, by clicking on this link.
In the United States, the one exception to laws against betting on politics is the “prediction market.” In the prediction markets, bettors are classified as “investors,” who can buy “shares” in a potential candidate. The favorite is the candidate with the highest share price.
But a look at both the U.K. betting odds and at the leading U.S. prediction market PredictIt, which can be viewed at this link, show that Trump’s chances of winning reelection, according to people willing to put their money where their mouth is, rank far higher than in the national polls.
What’s going on?
Trump’s approval ratings across all polls in the latest average compiled by the data-journalism site FiveThirtyEight.com show Trump stuck at a historic low. After 266 days in office, Trump’s average approval rating stands at a dismal 37.8 percent.
That’s significantly lower than any elected president — including elected vice presidents who assumed office following the death of a president — since approval rating polls began in 1945. Of the 12 presidents to hold the office between then and 2017, only Bill Clinton dipped below 50 percent after 266 days. But Clinton was nonetheless almost 12 percentage points more popular than Trump, with a rating of 49.7 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight.
In fact, at this point in his term, Trump ranks slightly below Gerald Ford, who was appointed vice president by Richard Nixon after Nixon’s own VP, Spiro Agnew, resigned over corruption charges in 1973. Ford then became president, without ever receiving a vote on a presidential ticket, in August of 1974 when Nixon himself resigned over the Watergate scandal.
Ford’s approval rating took a severe hit when he issued a blanket pardon to Nixon over Watergate, and after 266 days he stood at an even 38 percent — one-fifth of a point better than where Trump rates now.
But according to Democratic strategist Doug Sosnik, Trump remains “on track to win reelection” in 2020 anyway. According to Sosnik, who made his argument in a widely syndicated op-ed column earlier this week, the highly divided condition of the U.S. electorate in the current era will mean that Trump may be able to win reelection with an even smaller share of voters.
In 2016, Trump lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton by a sizable margin, winning just 46.4 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 48.5. In fact, Clinton’s popular vote win was greater than the margin enjoyed by 11 elected presidents throughout U.S. history.
But Sosnik predicts that the current nationwide disillusionment with both Democrats and Republicans will lead to an influx of third-party candidates in the 2020 presidential election — candidates who could garner significant vote totals and “further divide the anti-Trump vote, making it possible for him to get reelected simply by holding on to his current level of support.”
There are, however, two other factors largely overlooked by Sosnik that could also indicate Trump’s reelection outlook remains rosy. One is the economy, which a large segment of Americans now believe be in healthy shape, according to a CNBC All-America Economic Survey released earlier this month. The survey showed a 10-year high of 43 percent rating the U.S. economy as “good” or “excellent.”
According to the Gallup economic survey, public confidence in the U.S. economy rated at +4 in September, a generally optimistic outlook that has remained roughly the same since May, “notably higher compared with any month between 2008 and November 2016.”
Incumbent presidents since the end of World War II have stood for reelection 10 times — winning seven. All of the winners enjoyed solid economic outlooks at the time of their second election campaigns, while the three losers were plagued by economic issues such as high inflation or recessions, according to a study by the Brookings Institute.
The other factor in Trump’s favor is the simple fact that assuming he does not leave office before his first term is up, he will be the incumbent.
Of the 10 incumbents to run for reelection since 1945, only Ford in 1976, Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George H.W. Bush in 1992 have managed to lose their bids. Incumbents win reelection most of the time, at all levels of political office, including the nation’s top job.
So how do the betting markets see Trump’s chances, compared to other possible candidates in the 2020 presidential race — though no candidates have officially declared their intention to run in three years?
All of the markets agree: Trump is the heavy favorite.
In the United States, the PredictIt market puts Trump’s “shares” at a high of 32 cents, well ahead of the second-place candidate, independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, whose price is a mere nine cents. However, both Trump and Sanders saw their prices drop slightly on Thursday, while third-place Kamala Harris, the first-term California Democratic senator, rose by a penny to eight cents.
In the U.K. betting markets, Trump also holds on to the favorite spot easily. In Ireland’s Paddy Power betting shop, Trump is currently commanding 11-4 odds, meaning that a wager of one dollar would bring only $2.75 in return if Trump wins reelection. Sanders ranks far lower in the U.K. than on the U.S. markets, in 11th place at 20-1 odds, while 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton could bring bettors a long shot 50 bucks on a one-dollar wager.
Businesswoman and television talk show host Oprah Winfrey brings more favorable odds than either Sanders or Clinton, with Paddy Power bettors receiving 16-1 odds that Winfrey will become president in the 2020 election, while World Wrestling Entertainment boss Vince McMahon is a long shot at 200-1.
Across the 12 total U.K. betting operations listed by the gambling site OddsChecker.com, Trump’s odds are as high as a straight 2-1, while his vice-president Mike Pence is the second-favorite 2020 presidential candidate with odds ranging from a high of 8-1 to a low of 57-5. Sanders at high of 14-1 ranks just behind Harris and Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren on the OddsChecker chart — but slightly ahead of former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama.
[Featured Image by Alex Brandon/AP Images]