Lesson from the Veepstakes

Lesson from the Veepstakes

A guest slot from Pip Moss on what they’ve learned from betting on Joe Biden’s running mate

With Biden’s search for a running mate being the focus of endless media speculation for several months now, it is tempting to be grateful it is over and move on. But before we do I am spending a moment coming up with my strategy for the 2024 Veepstakes, and I think you should too. Four years is a long time, and while it is hard to believe right now we won’t remember all this come next time.

Clearly not every Veepstakes is the same, and there is certainly a risk of re-fighting the last war when betting. But some things seem to happen reliably, and taking stock now might stop us falling for them next time. Here are my 3 main takeaways from what we just saw.

Late Decisions

Since at least late June the media has published rumours that Biden was shortly to announce. We heard an early announcement was on the cards, and the status of the shortlist was endlessly said to be in its final stages. In reality Biden announced yesterday, mere days before the convention.

This should have surprised no-one. There are numerous reasons to delay the announcement and almost none the do it early. People on your shortlist are motivated to fundraise and campaign even harder for you while they are in contention, and the media coverage of the Veepstakes is at worst benign for the nominee. Trump announced Pence 3 days before the 2016 RNC, and Clinton announced Kaine 3 days before the DNC. This is typical, and has been for decades, as detailed in a Politico article of 2008

Ignore news stories weeks ahead of the convention stating someone is ‘a done deal’. And don’t get too invested in early frontrunners – the process has a lot of time for things to change. Klobuchar fit perfectly in March, but didn’t fit at all by June. Yes, Harris was an early favourite who was chosen, but she was far from the only person to be backed very low.

The Market Gets Too Excited

A few hours before the announcement was made I went on Betfair and made a list of anyone who had ever been a strong contender. Most of these people had been favourites at least once.

The list is frankly shocking. Not only were some mad names backed at under 4/1 (the person or persons who backed Hillary Clinton at 2/1 need a professional examination), the ‘flavour of the week’ was often backed very low indeed. Demings and Warren had their moment when they seemed to have a good shot, but their prices fell far shorter than was ever justified.

Additionally, people are backed far too hard far too early. Buttigieg must have been backed before the shortlist even took shape, he should never have been below double digits let alone 3/1.

‘Insiders’ Aren’t Reliable

The Veepstakes brings out the unattributed quote like little else (aside from the Trump White House, that is). For months now you could read articles where apparently well-informed sources told journalists the state of the race, but almost all of it has (again) turned out to be nonsense.

In fairness to the media, it does appear that the final decision came down to Harris and Rice. On the other hand, you could read as recently as the last week or two that Karen Bass was the new favourite and Gretchen Whitmer was suddenly in the frame. We’ll never know for sure how true any of that was, but that’s rather my point. Reading the tea leaves of the Veepstakes is something the media isn’t as good at doing as it tries to be, so we shouldn’t take them too seriously (as the market does, see above).

My 2024 Veepstakes Strategy

So what does the above tell us? The market knows less than it thinks, it commits too hard, and it commits too early. I laid Harris at about 6/4 back in early April, but that wasn’t my mistake. I covered most of my losses by laying Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, Mitt Romney (!), and both Obamas (yes, really). But I laid them too long, and lacked the guts to lay too many others when they dived to 4/1 or shorter. Sometimes you can give the market too much respect, and that hampered my execution of a correct strategy.

The Veepstakes brings out the worst in the betting markets for the three reasons above, next time I’ll try to remember this experience and not get caught up in it.

There is a big flaw in political betting markets: People go through the same emotions and make the same mistakes every cycle because elections happen too rarely to learn the lessons. But it isn’t inevitable. I’m taking my notes above and diairising re-reading them in early 2024. Learn the lessons now, remember what we learned next time, bet smarter.

Pip Moss

Pip Moss posts on Political Betting as Quincel. You can follow him on Twitter at @PipsFunFacts

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