Wargaming the Electoral College: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

AP Photo/John Locher

There's something funny in the presidential election numbers at Polymarket, where users bet real money on the actual outcomes of real-world events. It's just like betting on horses — the odds of each horse winning, placing, or showing are continuously updated as people lay their money down on their favorite. Betting markets can be eerily accurate because bettors are using their knowledge and their money, instead of just spouting off at (or more likely, ignoring) a pollster.

It's called having skin in the game, and it matters.

Asked to lay their money down on "Who will win the presidency?" Polymarket bettors have given Trump a commanding lead. The current forecast, as I write these words at about 3:30 p.m. Eastern, gives Donald Trump a 56% chance of turning that POTUS 45 moniker into POTUS 47, Joe Biden just a 34% chance of keeping power, and RFK Jr pulling up the rear at 2%.

ASIDE: I'd also note that when prediction market bettors put their money down, they aren't necessarily indicating a belief that there will be a free and fair election. They're betting on the actual outcome, no matter how crooked it might be.

Those are the kinds of numbers I like to see, and the trendline has been moving in Trump's favor. Whether that's despite or because of his Deep State legal troubles is anyone's guess. But my guess is "because of."

Don't pop the champagne cork just yet though because the devil is, as always, in the details.

Users aren't limited to betting on the outcome of the general election. If you like, you can place a bet on one or all of the 50 states, or any number in between. 

That same pool of bettors who give Trump a 56% chance of winning back the White House paints a different picture when you look at their state-by-state bets. Putting their money on the line that way, Polymarket shows Biden sweeping Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. (That last one is only arguably in play.)

Assuming Trump wins Nev., Ariz., N.C., and Ga. (and it looks increasingly likely that he will take all four), he must still pick off at least one of those Rust Belt states to win.

That's how Polymarket's map shows Biden squeaking out the squeakiest of victories, 270-268, even as bettors on nationwide results like Trump's odds. (Map below.)

I'll have to revisit Polymarket as the summer progresses and people begin to focus more on the election, with both their news focus and their betting dollars. There have been indications that Virginia and New Hampshire could potentially flip red this year.

In any case, until we learn more about potential outliers, not much has changed since my last Wargaming column — the path to the White House runs through Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and maybe Minnesota.


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