While watching "Meet the Press" on Sunday, I was surprised to see the results of a Marist University poll which asked 352 Republicans or Republican-leaning voters "If the 2008 Republican presidential primary were held today, whom would you support…?"
Here are the Republican results:
Republicans May 2005
Rudy Giuliani 27%
John McCain 20%
Jeb Bush 10%
Newt Gingrich 8%
Rick Santorum 3%
Bill Frist 3%
George Pataki 2%
Mitt Romney 1%
Chuck Hagel 1%
Haley Barbour 1%
Bill Owens <1%
George Allen <1%
Sam Brownback <1%
[Complete results may be found at: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/RCP_PDF/Marist_5_05.pdf]
So, you may ask "What do you find so surprising in these results?" I'm glad you asked! There are a few things: I would have expected Jeb to poll much higher in comparison to Newt at this time (though I think that will change.) I'm surprised Frist gets only 3% because he's clearly thinking of running and I'm nearly as surprised that Santorum gets 3% because I don't think he's electable (far too conservative and probably too young). But most of all, I was shocked to see George Allen get less than 1%.
I'm not spending a lot of time in early 2005 thinking about the 2008 election, but there's simply no way that George Allen is an underdog to Gingrich or Santorum and probably not to Jeb Bush. Allen has great experience in the House and Senate as well as being a Governor. He's smart and personable and has taken a strong stance against any sort of internet taxation which I think is a no-lose position. So, as a trader I figured this was a "buying opportunity".
On the afternoon of May 9th, I went to one of my favorite sites, www.tradesports.com, where you can bet on such things and found these markets on the site:
Jeb Bush: 9%
(The values are roughly between the bid and offer, and do not include the online markets for every candidate because I didn't want to type them all.)
What I like about tradesports is that you are not betting against "the house". It's an exchange like the stock exchange where you buy or sell against orders put in by other traders. (This is similar to the Iowa Electronic Markets which is actually regulated by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.)
What is particularly fascinating about this type of information versus just asking a polling question is that people are much more likely to put money on what they really expect.. When there is no penalty to giving the answer you're "supposed to" give instead of the answer you believe, enough people will do the former to throw off what the results should show.
Also, people who are betting on politics (like people who bet on anything) probably know a lot more about it than people selected at random.
So, how about the Democratic side? Here are the Marist poll results:
Democrats May 2005
Hillary Clinton 40%
John Kerry 18%
John Edwards 16%
Joe Biden 7%
Wesley Clark 4%
Russ Feingold 2%
Bill Richardson 1%
Mark Warner <1%
Evan Bayh <1%
Tom Vilsack <1%
What's surprising here? First, I don't think there's any way that the guys who just lost should be polling that strongly. Senators rarely win the Presidency, especially north-eastern liberal Senators (although Hillary has a chance of breaking that mold, especially after only one term in the Senate.). Second, where's Al Gore? He can't win, but he has to have a better thance than Russ Feingold. Third, I think Bayh is a real contender and I think Clark isn't. Finally, I like Richardson as a longshot, but it's a bit early to put a lot on that horse.
So here are some selected tradesports markets:
To me, these make a lot more sense, but I'm not surprised. It's like playing poker for real money versus "playing for fun"; the players behave totally differently.
The bottom line is, if you want to know what people are really thinking about likely candidates, look where people have to risk their money to make their opinion known.
I hope George Allen doesn't worry too much about the Marist poll and I hope Kerry doesn't think he should try to run again.
Ross Kaminsky is a fellow of the Heartland Institute. He earned a Political Science degree from Columbia University in 1987 and has been published in The New York Times, The Denver Post, The LA Times, and other major newspapers around the country. His blog can be found at http://www.rossputin.com