Betting on politics is quite self-explanatory, giving you the opportunity to place a wager on the likes of which political party with win the election or which way a referendum will end up going. It’s not uncommon for someone to say that they’re ‘not interested in politics’, but the reality is that decisions made by politicians have an effect on all of our lives and influence more of the things that we care about than many realise.
Political markets are also often used as a barometer of the way that something will end up going when it comes to the public casting their vote. The Brexit market, for example, swung wildly between Leave and Remain in the build-up to the referendum result, even though it ultimately failed to accurately predict how the vote went. Whether we all care about politics or not, we all have the chance to bet on major political events.
The Best Bookies for Politics & Elections
Off the top of my head I can’t think of any mainstream bookmakers that don’t cover at least one form of sport or another. Some of them might specialise in a specific individual sport, but pretty much all of them consider the likes of football and tennis to be their bread and butter. The same can’t be said of political betting, with some only giving a passing glance to this area of the market. Here, then, are the bookmakers who take it a little bit more seriously.
As I mentioned in detail on my page about Novelty Bets, Paddy Power like to cover areas of the market that they think are a touch neglected by some of their rivals. They do this partly because any under-covered section of the industry will naturally attract more customers who want to bet on that very thing, but partly because it’s a lot easier to be controversial about novelty subjects and political ones than sports. Paddy Power have made a name for themselves by being deliberately controversial in the past in order the get themselves in the papers and trending on social media, with it coming as no surprise to anyone that one of the areas that they’ve done that in is the political arena.
Ultimately, though, there’s no point in a bookmaker doing something for attention if they aren’t then prepared to back that up with strength in the market that they’ve gained attention for. I would imagine that that’s one of the reasons why Paddy Power’s politics and elections coverage is as strong as it is. They’re essentially shouting ‘Come see how good our politics market is!’ and backing that up with an excellent market. If you’re not sure I’m right about that then consider this: most bookmakers only have a token set of political bets on offer in-between elections, but that’s exactly the state of affairs right now and yet Paddy Power are currently presenting me with 57 different things for me to bet on.
Despite the veneer of a comical approach to such things taken by the Irish bookmaker, they actually treat their political markets just as seriously as major sporting events. They aren’t just chucking up a couple of things for you to bet on in order to have a ‘politics’ section of the website. They research the markets, keep on top of current affairs and react to news pretty much as it happens. That doesn’t mean that they don’t also do a few things for the ‘banter’, though. If you wanted to place a bet on the next Irish President then your options would include Bono, Roy Keane and Blindboy Boatclub. They’re the sort of bets I recommend you steer clear of, though.
Every bettor has their own thing that they look out for from a bookmaker. Some like to see a well populated market, whilst others think that promotions are the most important thing, and, for some, it’s the odds that make a bookie worth using. That latter subject is why Betfred are worthy of a mention, with the Manchester-founded bookmaker regularly featuring near the top of the betting charts for their coverage of political and election events. In the vast majority of those markets if they don’t have the best odds then they’re at least matching whoever does. You’ll find the occasional subject that you can get better odds on somewhere else, but generally speaking, you’ll not be disappointed if you look at what Betfred are offering.
As I say, though, not everyone cares about the odds. Yes, you’re trying to win money and the higher the odds are the more likely it is that you’ll win more money, but nowadays most of the big bookies are within a whisker of each other. If you’re betting £10 and the odds of one company are 3/1 and another are 7/2, you’re hardly talking about a huge amount of money that you’ll miss out on if you go with the former rather than the latter. If you’re a high-roller or every penny counts then it absolutely matters, but for everyone else there are other things to worry about. Thankfully, Betfred is the equal of most rivals in that sense, splitting their political betting up into UK and US markets.
When you’re looking at their UK markets then you should expect to see topics such as who’ll win the next general election, who’ll be the next Prime Minister and who will win the next major Mayoral election. You might think that they’ll be a bit more thin on the ground when it comes to American political betting, but that’s not giving them enough credit. As well as the big one, like who’ll be in control of the House or Senate after the mid-terms and who the next President will be, you’ll also find up-to-date topics, such as who will win a special election on offer. In short, with Betfred you’ll get great market coverage combined with some of the best odds around, which is a combination that most punters will struggle to resist.
You might be slightly surprised to see a bookmaker like Ladbrokes make it onto this list. I certainly wasn’t expecting to discover that they were decent for political and election betting. That perhaps says more about where I see them in the overall scheme of bookmakers, still considering them to be the straight-laced and proper bookie of my youth. The betting world has changed markedly since then, of course, with Ladbrokes doing about as much as any major bookmaker to keep up with the advances in the field. No longer are they anything like the company that was originally formed as a commissioning agent for horses that had been trained at Ladbroke Hall!
Instead, their sportsbook is as varied as the best of them, including a section dedicated to political and election coverage. They will offer you odds on the likes of the next cabinet minister to leave, the next leader of the two major parties and also the biggest topics in Irish, Scottish and Welsh politics. They aren’t quite as good as some of their rivals when it comes to coverage of political movements abroad, tending to limit themselves to the main topics of US elections and chucking in something like ‘Next President of Russia’ seemingly for variation. That’s not to say that you won’t be able to bet on those things, just that their strength lies a touch closer to home.
My only major criticism of Ladbrokes’s political and election coverage is that their website lays things out in the same format as it does for all of their sports betting. It might well be that other bookies on this list do that too but that their website’s format lends itself to political betting a bit more, but for some reason is really stands out with Ladbrokes. It’s as though they’re expecting their political betting market to shift into In-Play at any moment and it makes finding the bets you’re looking for a little bit harder than it should be. I might just be nit-picking, but for some of you that will be the sort of thing that will tip you from one bookmaker to another so I think it’s worth mentioning.
You’ll no doubt have noticed that so far my references to various elections have all been to do with the UK and the US. That’s because most of the bookmakers I’ve spoken about are UK-centric and the majority of British audiences care mostly about themselves and have a passing interest with our cousins across the Atlantic. Unibet have been making strides in recent times to break into the British market, but there can be no doubt that their origin story is distinctly continental. Founded in Sweden in 1997, the company counts Belgium, Denmark and Estonia amongst the many nations in which it has a home.
When it comes to looking for betting markets a little further afield than just the UK and US, therefore, Unibet is my bookmaker of choice. At the time of writing, you could place bets on whether Austria will leave the European Union before 2022, who will win the next Danish general election and even who will become the next President of Finland. None of the other bookmakers I’ve mentioned so far have even hinted at looking in on those markets, so if it’s something you fancy betting on then you now know where to look. Given the company’s origins, it’s no surprise to see that the Swedish political scene gets as much coverage from Unibet as any other.
All of which is to say that Unibet cover European markets well, but I don’t want to leave you with the impression that they’re no good when it comes to the other things you’re likely to want to bet on. The truth of the matter is that the main bookies concentrate on the United Kingdom and United States of America because that’s what most punters want to bet on. If you’d put yourself into that category then fear not, Unibet have got you covered. You’ll be able to bet on the winner of the next general election or on who will be the next US President, for example, but you’re unlikely to be able to have a flutter on who will win the House or how many seats Labour will win. Something to bear in mind.
Coral are always close to the top of any list that I draw up for pretty much any betting topic, purely because they’re an excellent ‘all-round’ bookmaker that cover things in a way that appeals to my sensibilities. They’ve got a website that I can navigate around without losing the will to live, putting things into easy to understand sections that I appreciate. You’re not going to get anything particularly out of the ordinary from Coral, with their markets pretty closely matching those of their major competitors. What you will get, though, is a nice long list telling you exactly what political bets you can make.
Let’s say that you fancy having a flutter on a couple of different markets but aren’t sure which bets tickle your fancy just yet. You can head to the Politics section on the Coral website and scroll through what they have to offer, ticking the boxes of the topics that you’d like to see more information about. Next Chancellor of the Exchequer? Tick. Next Lib Dem Leader? Tick. Year the Prime Minister will leave office? Not interesting. Next Scottish First Minister? Tick. Now you’ve selected the things you’re keen on seeing the options for you simply click ‘Show Betting’ and they’ll all drop down, revealing the various bets that you can place.
For me, with the way I like to do things, Coral’s website is the best of the lot. I might have an inkling about who I’d like to bet on as next Chancellor of the Exchequer, for example, plus who I think the next Lib Dem leader will be. However, I only want to place a bet on one of those things and the odds I’m presented with will make my decision for me. This way I can see them side-by-side without having to go into and out of the different markets, allowing me to place my bet on the former having seen the odds of the latter. How much you like all of this will depend entirely on your own personal taste, but I always like to draw attention to things that I think are noteworthy in order to give you the choice.
Betting on Politics
On the page about placing Novelty Bets I talked about how sport is visceral, how it grabs you by throat and doesn’t let go. Carlo Ancellotti once said about football something that is applicable to any sport: it’s the most important of the least important things in life. That’s why we all get so het up when we’re watching our team play and it’s also why In-Play betting is so popular; after all, if we get caught up in the emotion of what we’re watching then the chance to put our money where are mouths are is almost certainly going to be too good to resist.
If sport is the most important of the least important things in life then politics is surely the most important thing full-stop. It’s something that affects every single person’s life, but that most people attempt to distil into a headline. It is, I would argue, one of the few things that can make people as angry as a fiercely contested sporting event! Little wonder why, of course, when you consider that everything from house prices through to wages are affected by politician’s decisions. We live in a more turbulent time than we have for decades, with Brexit, Donald Trump and suspected Russian interference in elections causing people to become more political engaged than ever before.
The job of a bettor, though, is to remain dispassionate. Decisions made my those in power might well affect you, but they are unlikely to affect whether or not you’ll be able to collect your winnings from your betting account. That’s why you’ll want to maintain a clear head when you’re looking at the betting markets and hoping to place a wager on the outcome of the next election, referendum or other politically motivated situation. On this page, I’ll tell you who the best bookmakers are when it comes to placing your political bets, as well as the things you’ll want to think about when you’re considering what to bet on. Future elections might not go the way you want them to, but hopefully this page will at least ensure that your bets will.
How to Bet on Elections
Some of the things you can bet on in terms of politics and elections are obvious, whilst other markets might not have occurred to you before. Here’s a quick look at some of the things you might want to place a wager when it comes to elections in particular:
Winning Party / Result
This is probably the most obvious market of the lot. It’s the political equivalent to who will win the FA Cup or which horse will romp home in the Grand National. It’s normally an ante-post bet, though some bookmakers will allow In-Play betting once the results start to come in. You’re betting on which party will win the election, with your choices in the UK coming between the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems. Don’t discount the possibility of a hung parliament, though, with several elections in recent times coming close to that outcome.
Betting on one party over another isn’t the only election-style bet you can place. When Britain went to the polling booths over whether or not to leave the European Union, for example, you could place a bet on the outcome of that referendum. That would have come under the same sort of betting as an election, with a binary decision of ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Meanwhile, betting on American elections tends to be similar to the same thing in the UK, betting on the party that will win. The difference in America is that the electoral college means that one party might win more actual votes but the other will win the election, as happened with Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump in 2016.
In British politics, the number of seats a party holds in the Houses of Parliament determines who the ruling party will be. The aim is to claim 326 seats in order to have an overall majority, though a party can make deals with others to get themselves to that magic number. As an example, in 2017, the Tories only managed to get 317 seats but made an arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland to use their ten votes to give them a majority and therefore be the ruling party. Had you placed a bet on the Tories winning an overall majority some bookies may have refused to pay up, so you might have been better looking at seat beating.
Seat betting is where you have a wager on which party will win the most seats, which is different to which party will win the election. This particular topic is made slightly more interesting by the possibility of placing spread bets on the outcome. This moves things away from a binary outcome of ‘win’ or ‘lose’, concentrating more heavily on whether the amount of seats won will be above or below a certain number. What I would say is that spread betting can seem slightly complicated if you haven’t done it before, so make sure you’re confident before you jump in and place your bets.
Elections in the US work slightly differently to how they do in the UK. For starters, the Presidential elections are far more about personalities than parties. Both House and Senate occupants are voted on when there are Presidential elections, but two years later the country heads to the polls again for the Midterms. These elections give American citizens a chance to essentially overthrow the government, by voting for Senators and Congressman that will head to the House and the Senate and either help or stop the President from passing legislation.
It’s entirely possible for the President to be from the Republican Party and both the House and the Senate to be controlled by the Democrats, thereby limiting the actual power of the person in the White House. Obviously the main thing I care about is the increased opportunity to place some bets, with all three options of the Presidential election and the House and Senate majorities coming available to me as the elections approach.
How to Bet on General Politics
Elections are a huge and obvious market that you’ll want to consider betting on, but they’re not the only markets in this particular area that will catch your interest. In fact, there are probable more ‘general politics’ bets that you can place than election-based ones. Here are some of the main ones:
Next Prime Minister / Party Leader / Something
The political world is more volatile right now than it has been since the world was at war. Things are changing on any almost daily basis, so betting on who will be the next anything at all is a really interesting market. The most obvious example of what I’m talking about is something like next Prime Minister, with a lot of your opinion on that front tied up with which party will win the next election.
The way the British political system works means that doesn’t have to be the case, however. When Britain voted to leave the European Union, David Cameron believed his time was up as PM and so resigned the following day. Theresa May took over and became the next leader of the government without anyone in the country casting a vote.
Leaders of parties will always be interesting things to bet on, thanks to the likes of scandals and political manoeuvres forcing people from office on just as regular a basis as losing elections. Yet the way politics works in Britain means that the person at the top could decide to mix things up a little at any given moment. We’ve all heard the phrase ‘cabinet reshuffle’ used, so placing a bet on who you think will be the next Education Secretary can be just as exciting as who will be the next Taoiseach. Keeping your ear to ground for cultural shifts or topical opinions will help you out immensely here.
Date of Next Election
The clue is in the title when it comes to this market. In the UK, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act of 2011 dictates that general elections should be held every five years. In that sense, you might think that it’s obvious when the next general election will be held in Britain. However, an election can be held as long as the government secures a two-thirds majority vote in the House of Commons to do so, or if a vote of no confidence in the ruling party is taken. Consider this, the Fixed-term Parliament Act was introduced in 2011, meaning there should have been an election in 2016 and then again in 2021.
The final thing I’ll mention here are special bets. As much as the parties are the main things to think about when it comes to political betting, the personalities involved are becoming more and more important and noteworthy with each passing year. It’s becoming common, therefore, for bookies to offer specific bets about those personalities.
I’m talking about the likes of ‘Jeremy Corbyn to be Prime Minister’, ‘Year Theresa May Will Resign’ or ‘Donald Trump to be Impeached’. It’s not beyond the realms of the possible that Paddy Power will offer something like ‘Next Sex Scandal’ either. These are the sorts of bets that are a bit more interesting as they’re off the beaten track.
Why Do the Bookies Always Seem to Get It Wrong?
Bookmakers will, first and foremost, always think about balancing the books. If everyone is betting on one outcome then the odds on that thing happening will shorten in order to allow the bookies some coverage. It’s dangerous, therefore, to look at what the bookmaking industry is saying and take that as some sort of indication of how any specific event will actually go.
As an example of what I’m talking about, the bookmakers decided that ‘Remain’ was most the most likely outcome of the EU referendum in the UK as soon as David Cameron announced the decision would go to a vote. Ahead of the polling on the 23rd of June the head of political trading at Betfred, Marcus Goddard, said, “It won’t be by a huge margin – by 55 to 45 per cent – but the vote will be for Remain”. That was, he said, based on the ‘weight of money being bet’.
There can be any number of reasons why the bookies seem to get it wrong when it comes to British politics. There remains a sense of ‘shy Tories’, with the Conservatives’s policies often going against the greater good and therefore leading some people to lie about their voting intentions when they’re polled. Equally, bookmakers will sometimes underestimate the power of newspapers to sway voters. The most read papers in the UK are right-wing, meaning that more people will be swayed to the Tories over Labour or the Lib Dems as election day approaches.
The final thing that’s worth mentioning when it comes to bookmakers and politics is that the size of bets being placed can sometimes mislead the market. Let’s say the polling suggests that the Tories will win a majority at the next election. Bookies will initially pay attention to that and drop the odds of a Conservative win accordingly. Joe Randomer might only want to bet £5 or £10 and odds of 1/4 on the Tories won’t look appealing, so he’ll place his bet on Labour at 5/1.
You could have one hundred similar bets, leading to £500 being bet on Labour. However someone from the City might think 1/4 is decent value for their £10,000 bet, so they go for it. Bookmakers will see that loads of money is going on the Tories in comparison with Labour, ignoring the fact that loads of smaller bets are being placed by the people who will actually be doing the voting. That will sway their odds one way and it may end up misrepresenting people’s actual voting intentions.
There are any number of brilliant resources out there for people that want to bet on political markets. If you’re thinking of having a flutter on an upcoming election or other aspect of the political world then I highly recommend you look some of them up. The more you can do to help yourself, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to grab an edge over the bookies in the build-up to the main event.
It goes without saying that social media is a brilliant place to turn when it comes to keeping your ear to the ground for political stories. You’ll often find that rumours will break online before anything will be confirmed by the establishment news organisations. Politicians are not above getting themselves into a little bit of bother on social media either, whether by tweeting something they shouldn’t or else replying to someone in the heat of the moment.
There are also a number of more official sources that you’ll want to look out for. Nate Silver is a pollster based in the United States who runs a site called FiveThirtyEight. The site will monitor such important things as how popular the President is at any given moment through to the statistical chances of a college football team making the play-offs. It’s one of my go-to sites for more than just politics, though there’s no question that that is where their major strength lies.
When it comes to UK politics, Matt Singh runs a website called Number Cruncher Politics, which does essentially the same thing as Nate Silver’s site but with a more British-centric philosophy. He correctly predicted that the polling was way out ahead of the 2015 election, when most companies thought the election was too close to call. If you’re considering placing a bet on a British political topic then you’d be mad not to check out his site.
As I mentioned before, the most read newspapers in the United Kingdom are right-wing, so it’s worth seeing if they seem to be demonstrating a preference for one outcome over another when election time rolls around. They were naturally inclined to lead towards the Tories ahead of the general election in 1997, for example, but Tony Blair was such a force of will that the biggest papers in the country essentially endorsed him and Labour won the subsequent election. Some papers pride themselves on having correctly called every election since the war, so it’s worth seeing which way they’re leaning on the day of the vote.