The 2020 Presidential Election is behind us, and in less than a month former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. While President Biden will have plenty he can do, the depth of his agenda could depend on what happens in Georgia on Tuesday, January 5, 2021.
Georgia is holding a pair of runoffs to determine its two United States Senators. Jon Ossoff is facing David Perdue in a runoff to the regular cycle election, while Reverend Raphael Warnock is facing Kelly Loeffler in a runoff for a special election. The Republicans currently hold a 50-48 edge in the Senate, and if the Democrats claim both races, they would hold the majority due to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote.
The November election ended up following the patterns statistical analysts were predicting, but given the roller-coaster that was expected, it still felt like a wild ride. And if you happened to have any kind of wager invested in the outcome, it was a lengthy process. General betting on elections is illegal in the United States, with a limited exception. You could make modest wagers at PredictIt through that exception, while if you lived abroad, you could bet through the likes of BetFair.
We tracked a variety of polling and odds over the course of the lead up to and through the week following the election. We’re back for another round of it, this time for the runoff for the US Senate election between Jon Ossoff and David Perdue. It came down to the wire, but when Perdue could not get to 50 percent by final tallies, it went to a runoff.
How we got to runoff
David Perdue claimed the highest percentage on election day in November, but as votes continued to be continued, his total came down under 50 percent. He finished with 49.7 percent, while Jon Ossoff finished at 47.9 percent. Libertarian Shane Hazel claimed 2.3 percent of the vote, and that likely was the difference.
The runoff requires voters only vote for one of the two remaining candidates. They cannot write in any other name. They either have to vote for one of the two, or vote for neither.
What Georgia’s vote-counting process could mean
Given what we saw following the November 3rd general election, it’s worth noting what the ballot-counting process looks like for Georgia. The state code states that for any primary, general, or runoff election, “[a] county election superintendent may, in his or her discretion, after 7:00 A.M. on the day of the primary, election, or runoff open the inner envelopes in accordance with the procedures prescribed in this subsection and begin tabulating the absentee ballots.”
This means that the counting of mail-in votes will not begin until 7 a.m. on January 5th, at the absolute earliest. As of December 22nd, 1,678,624 ballots have been returned, and absentee ballots can be submitted all the way up to election day, so long as the ballot is received on election day. That means there is a strong chance we will not know who has won by the end of the evening on January 5th.
Current Georgia US Senate election polling, Ossoff vs. Perdue
The race does appear to continue to be close, but some higher-rated pollsters appear to be moving it in Ossoff’s direction. A Survey USA poll of 600 likely voters has it +4 for Ossoff, and part of the reason might be distrust in the electoral system. Of those who identify as “very conservative,” 55% said they won’t vote as “the voting process is rigged.” Zero percent of liberals and very liberals said the same.
According to FiveThirtyEight.com, this race is a statistical dead heat. On November 9th, polling had Perdue up four points. In the following week the polling narrowed, and by November 30, Ossoff was ahead 0.2 points. The lead has gone back and forth, and as of today, Ossoff has a 0.4 point lead. Considering margin of error, it’s either candidate’s race.
You have to live abroad to place a wager at BetFair and other European-based sites, but for our purposes, it provides helpful information for analyzing what the race currently looks like. BetFair posts odds using a decimal format, which can be converted easily into traditional American +/- odds.
Perdue is the favorite at 1.5, which equates to -200. That means if you bet $200 and Perdue won, you would win $100. Ossoff is the underdog at 2.63, which equates to +163. That means if you bet $100 and Ossoff won, you would win $163.
It’s important to note that odds are not meant to predict the winner. Rather, a sportsbook wants to ensure it has a balance in wagering on both sides of an event. If a sportsbook gets a balanced amount of wagering, it is guaranteed a profit due to the vig. We saw how that can work with offshore sportsbooks during the presidential election. Even though voting analysis suggested things would turn as election week progressed, it did not stop Trump backers from backing their guy in a big way. It will be interesting to see if anything similar happens with the runoffs given they might not necessarily have the same passionate backers that were hoping to cash in on a Trump win.
Additional useful data is at PredictIt, a site that allows a limited form of betting on elections in the United States via futures contracts. The site operates via an exemption in US law so political scientists and other academics can use the data in their research showing how the general public feels about an upcoming event or election.
All futures contracts traded on the site are based on a $1.00 outcome, but they don’t always add up to a buck because of the bid-and-ask pricing on the exchange. For example, the day before Election Day, Democrats led .53 to .47. By Election Day that had swung to Republicans leading .55 to .40. As of December 22nd, Republicans lead .70 to .31.
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