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Comparing Polls to the 2020 Presidential Election Betting Odds


The 2020 Presidential Election has not reached the point where it is just a few days away. Bettors are fervently trying to dissect the different polls to try and find some angles that will help them out. But the example of the 2016 Election might give pause about relying too much on the polls.

This election season has been one of the most controversial and contested in the history of the United States. With the actual election just a few days away, the picture seems more convoluted than ever. That’s why many people are leaning on the polls trying to find some sort of insight on the outcome, especially if they’re planning on doing some betting on the election between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

But we are four years removed from an election where the pools were famously wrong in predicting the outcome. That’s why we think it’s a good idea to look at what happened then and how the polls are looking with the election so close by. That will help you to make smart wagers on the election at top gambling websites.

What Happened In 2016

Four years ago, most polls suggested that Democrat Hilary Clinton would win the Presidential Election by a relatively comfortable margin. Yet challenger Donald Trump ended up being the candidate who won by a sizable margin.

While Clinton won the popular vote by a solid count, Trump was able to come through in the Electoral College. The key to his success was his ability to pull off upsets in battleground states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. He also “held serve,” so to speak, meaning that Clinton wasn’t able to pull of upsets in some of the states where Trump was supposed to win, which might have offset Trump’s own upsets.

The aftermath was a deep mistrust in political polls in general. There was also much talk about Trump’s so-called “silent majority.” These were the people who didn’t participate in the polls or speak up about their support, only to step up in a big way on Election Day, particularly in the key states mentioned above.


— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 2, 2020

Polls and Margins of Errors

The notion that the polls were completely wrong in 2016 is a little misguided, or at least not completely the truth. All polls have a so-called margin or error. This is a percentage which attempts to account for the possible range of outcomes.

For example, take a look at a hypothetical poll:

  • Candidate A: 52%
  • Candidate B: 48%
  • Margin of error: 10 points

This poll is obviously expecting Candidate A to win the election in question. But the distance between the two in the polls is only 4 points. The margin of error of 10 points is enough to push Candidate B right past Candidate A.

It’s important to note that, in 2016, presidential polls from the top statistical sites, such as FiveThirtyEight, had a Trump victory within their margin of error. So while it was definitely an upset, it was certainly not unthinkable.

That’s why you should look at polls as nothing more than an indicator and a tool for your Presidential Election bets. If you rely on them completely, you can be deeply disappointed. And if you don’t also take into account the odds, you could be missing out on possible value.

The Electoral Map

Another problem with staying too focused on polls when betting the Presidential Election is that you might get caught concentrating on the forest and missing the trees. When you hear some generalized pieces of polling information, saying that so-and-so is up or down so many points, it is usually a national poll.

That would be fine if the election were based on a popular vote. But that’s not how American Presidential elections work. Instead, you have to consider the Electoral College, which doles out a certain normal of votes to each state, with the winner needing to capture a majority of those Electoral votes.

In addition to that, you have to remember that certain states even dole out their Electoral Votes in increments based on how many votes each candidate gets. All of that factors into the final picture. Yet people locking into overall polls will miss out on these important factors.

The best way to use the polls is to look at the Electoral Map and by trying to dissect the votes as closely as possible. Take an overview of how many votes each candidate might win. But you’re not done there.

Looking at the Election Betting Odds

It would be easier to bet on the Presidential Election if it were just an even-money type thing. In other words, if you bet $50 on one candidate to win and he does, you’d win $50 in return. But that’s not how it works.

Gambling websites need to adjust the odds so that they don’t take a bath. It’s the concept behind sports betting. If people could just bet on favorites all the time and expect to win back all the money they wagered, all of the sportsbooks and sports gambling sites in the world would quickly go out of business.

The same goes for the Presidential Election. Oddsmakers try to determine the level of betting on each side. They then adjust the money line so that there is an even money each way, which is ideal for them because they can simply pay off the winning bets with the losing ones and collect their takeout as profit.

In the case of the Presidential Election, most gambling sites use what’s known as the money line to even things out. The money line identifies a favorite and a long shot. It then applies a number to each candidate.

This number shows the amount you have to bet on the favorite to win $100 in return. By contrast, for the long shot, $100 wagered will get you the number listed. You’ll see a minus sign in front of the favorite’s odds and a plus sign in front of the long shots.

For example, currently lists the odds of winning the Presidential Election as follows:

  • Joe Biden: -175
  • Donald Trump: +135
  • Kamala Harris: +10000
  • Mike Pence: +10000

According to these odds, you have to bet $175 on Biden to win $100 in return. You have to bet $100 on the President to win $135 in return. And, if you want to take the chance that something unforeseen will happen and either Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris or Vice President Mike Pence will win, you’ll end up with $10,000 on a $100 bet, which works out to 100 to 1.

What does this all mean?

Well, if you truly believe the current polls which project Biden as the winner, you’ll have to bet more than you can hope to win in return. It also means that you’ll have to bet a little bit more to win more in return.

By contrast, betting on the President will get you a little bit more value, a common betting term, in return. You won’t have to bet as much to win as much money.

As a result, you can try to look at the polls and ask yourself the following two questions:

  1. Is Biden a sure-enough favorite to warrant paying a premium on a bet that wont get you much back in return?
  2. Does Trump have enough of a chance to win that it will be worth putting up the money, knowing that the reward for this risk is a little higher?

Sports bettors are used to making these types of determinations all the time. Those who go into betting the 2020 Presidential Election without that kind of background can get caught up solely on who they believe is going to win.

But betting of any kind is about maximizing your potential return and minimizing your risk. If you can do that with the Presidential Election results on Tuesday, you are giving yourself the best possible chance.


Let’s look back at all we’ve talked about here:

  • Polls are imperfect, and as long as an outcome is within the margin of error, it can happen.
  • The 2020 Election will be decided not by a popular vote, but by the Electoral College, which means you should only focus on polls that take that into account.
  • You should be aware of the odds and should only make your wager based on if it provides you ample value for the risk you are incurring.

Having said all this, is it possible that you can do all that and still lose your bet? Unfortunately, that answer is yes. It is gambling, after all.

But if you can give yourself the best possible information while considering the odds, your chances will greatly improve. And, if you apply that to every bet you make, not just the one for the 2020 Presidential Election, you’ll have success in the long run.

Jim Beviglia

Jim Beviglia joined as a staff writer in 2018, parlaying his years of freelance writing into contributions on a number of different topics. He handles the sport of horse racing for and the intersection between the worlds of cryptocurrency and online gambling in a weekly blog.
For his full-time job, Jim handles the television and track announcing duties at a h …

View all posts by Jim Beviglia

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