Am I the only one who finds the newfound obsession with election betting markets just a little bit tacky? Are we so impatient to find an election winner that we need to replace reasoned analysis with thinly disguised marketing on behalf of betting agencies?

The idea is that betting markets aggregating the beliefs of large numbers of people willing to put up their hard-earned cash provide a better guide than opinion polls as to who will in an election. And fair enough. Opinion polls usually ask hypothetical questions of people who may or may not have the slightest interest in politics. Had chatter about betting markets replaced chatter about polls, that would be tolerable. Instead, we now have double the speculation and double the ignorance of how to interpret the figures.

The Australian breathlessly reported on Monday that Maxine McKew’s chances of winning Bennelong “appear to be fading”. The reason? A spruiker for a betting agency claimed that the weekend had seen a plunge on Howard to win the seat. The plunge was all of $17,000. The total wagered on Howard’s seat through that particular agency was $80,000.

Bennelong is, unsurprisingly, the seat that has attracted the most interest from punters. That must leave the amounts waged on many of the other seats very small indeed. The prices quoted for those seats are pure guesswork. Let’s not confuse corporate PR with evidence of voter sentiment.

Just as opinion polls are of limited use unless a certain number of people are polled, betting markets need some depth before they have any predictive power. The market for the general election is obviously much more liquid, and therefore of much more use in picking the election for those not patient enough to wait a few weeks.

Yet, well-constructed opinion polls that will now be asking the question “How will you vote on 24 November” instead of asking about a hypothetical election will be more telling than anything the betting markets throw up between now and election day.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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