Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Why is Intrade so lopsided?

Jerry Stratton, September 27, 2012

Been hearing a bit in the comments of other blogs about, if the D+infinity polls are so skewed, why is Obama doing so well on Intrade? Intrade currently has him at 77%, so if you really think Romney is going to win, you could turn $1,000 into an easy $4,000. Tom Smith at the Right Coast just blogged about it, too, which reminded me that I actually considered betting on Intrade.

I look into Intrade every once in a while, and just looked again a few days ago because I’d heard about Obama’s 77 percent. I think it’s better than an even bet that Romney will win, and considered putting some money down on that. But I keep forgetting that it isn’t easy to trade on Intrade: you can’t use a credit card that’s tied to American banks. That leaves mailing them a check—and risking the numbers changing and having money sitting doing nothing on Intrade—or doing a bank wire transfer.

At present there are three ways you can add funds to your account—debit or credit card, check (personal or cashiers) and bank wire transfer. Unfortunately we are not able to use PayPal, MoneyBookers, Western Union, MoneyGram or NETeller.

If your credit or debit card was issued by a US bank then unfortunately you will not be able to use your card to fund your account. New regulations that came into force in the US on June 1st 2010 now heavily restrict the use of credit and debit cards on sites such as Intrade.

This is all for numbers that are fairly small. Sure, I can buy “Romney wins” for $2.29 and get $10 back when he wins; but is it worth it to go through all that for an extra $7.31? And it isn’t like I can buy a thousand dollars of shares and get back $4,366.81. There are only 97 shares available at that price. The rest are higher; and even in the “slightly higher” range that Intrade shows, there are only 293 shares at $2.33 or lower as I write this.

The number of shares on the Obama side are similarly low. Unless I’m misunderstanding the numbers, there just doesn’t appear to be very many people trading that bet. A couple of guys in their basement—preferably on overseas basement—could skew these numbers.

Also, remember that even if they’re accurate, the Intrade numbers measure different things than the polls do. Polls measure number of people theoretically voting. But Intrade measures the chance of a win. All Obama or Romney need is 50 people to win, one more than their opponent in each state. If we were sure that Obama was going to win by 1 vote in each state, Intrade would be at 100% Obama. Obviously, if it were that close we’d never be sure about it—but the polls aren’t showing it that close. They’re showing it as a near-certainty that Obama will win, which makes the 77% number seem low, not high.

Maybe it’s the Biden effect. People are worried Biden will say something so stupid, even Obama can’t overcome it. Or maybe it’s that people realize the polls are skewed. Some of the assumptions about Democratic turnout are more 2008 than 2008 was, as if 2010 never happened.

Update: what I’m saying is that while Intrade may be useful for some things as “like a stock market for betting on outcomes”, you have to treat it like a stock market, and stay away from stocks where only a thousand or so people are playing.

I wouldn’t use Intrade to predict the outcome of anything where people have budgets of other people’s money to affect the outcome unless the “market capitalization” of the “stock” vastly exceeds their budgets.

In response to Election 2012: The Long Hot Summer: For election blogging outside of California.

  1. <- Rice and Ryan
  2. Scarborough Fair ->