Betfair markets have been rocked by the scandal dominating the French election. As Paul Krishnamurty reports, Emmanuel Macron is the new favourite as Penelopegate threatens to destroy his main rival...
"The parallels with last year's dramatic US election are obvious. Candidates tainted by scandal, driving their approval ratings deep into negative territory. An ongoing investigation into the front-runner. prompting constant speculation about replacements and volatility on Betfair markets."
Once upon a time, political betting was just about the most predictable game on earth. National elections were won by the favourite. Period. Then along came 2016 and, like just about all things political, all of our assumptions and long-established trends became redundant.
With Brexit and Donald Trump fresh in the memory, political bettors seem more willing than ever to take on a short-odds favourite. And in the biggest market since the Trump miracle, that strategy is paying off handsomely.
We'd already seen plenty of drama in the French election last year, when surprising candidates came through the primary process. Long-term favourite Alain Juppe traded down to [1.45] (69%) to become Next President, only to fall at the first hurdle by failing to win his party's nomination. The man who seemed his principal rival - former President Nicolas Sarkozy - also traded at odds-on before a humiliating primary defeat.
After becoming the UMP candidate Francois Fillon's odds collapsed from [190.0] to a low of [1.4], equivalent to a 71% chance of winning May's presidential election. Short-odds backers, however, are already braced to take another big-hit.
With Fillon's candidacy now mired in a corruption scandal known as Penelopegate, his odds are in freefall. From [1.83] (55%) a week ago, tonight's latest quote is just [4.0] (25%), with Emmanuel Macron taking over at the head of the market.
Allegations that his wife Penelope was paid vast sums of public money to do 'fake jobs' - prompting an interrogation by police and their offices to be raided - have plunged the Fillon campaign into crisis and threaten to destroy his bid. Some Conservative colleagues have called for him to withdraw and Fillon himself has pledged to if the preliminary investigation becomes formal.
The parallels with last year's dramatic US election are obvious. Candidates tainted by scandal, driving their approval ratings deep into negative territory. An ongoing investigation into the front-runner. prompting constant speculation about replacements and volatility on Betfair markets.
Just as several 'replacement' candidates on both sides were heavily gambled despite never even entering the US race, so now punters are searching around for an alternative to represent the UMP.
Former Prime Minister Juppe is back in the running, matched down below [20.0] having drifted all the way out to the maximum odds of [1000.0]. Sarkozy has shortened from [900.0] to below [100.0]. Francois Baroin, the Mayor of Troyes, was gambled heavily down to [26.0] (4%).
The big move, however, is for the likeliest beneficiary. Emmanuel Macron is trying to break the French party mould as an Independent, running on a centrist, liberal, pro-EU ticket. The 39 year-old former Economy Minister has relentlessly shortened in the betting ever since announcing his candidacy, from [44.0] to a new low this afternoon of [2.14] (46%).
Macron is the most popular politician in France and according to tonight's poll, on course to finish second in the first-round, thus going through to a head-to-head run-off in which the same poll suggests he would hammer Marine Le Pen by nearly a two to one margin.
This first-round result is the key dynamic. Le Pen's vote is rock-solid and she seems near-certain to finish in the Final Two - and has been backed at [1.3] (77%) to do so. However all polling evidence suggests the Front Nationale leader will lose big to whoever she faces. Amidst all this drama, Le Pen's odds have remained notably stable around [5.0] (20%).
Even before Penelopegate, Macron was polling ahead of Fillon in any putative run-off. The concern was that he would be squeezed out of the front-two as the famously divided French centre and left reverted to type, spurning the most electable non-conservative.
Now it seems Macron may not need to convert so many left voters after all, with his principal mainstream rival a damaged figure. On the current trajectory, he will soon be odds-on for the presidency.