US Politics

US Election 2024: Should Donald Trump be the favourite?

Donald Trump and Joe Biden
Trump is currently favoured in the betting to reverse his 2020 defeat to Biden

Despite repeated court defeats and a possible criminal trial during the election campaign, Donald Trump remains clear favourite to win based on Betfair Exchange odds. Are they right?

  • Jan 6th trial likely to coincide with campaign

  • Conviction could be the decisive factor

  • Both Trump and Biden to trade shorter

Tuesday was another bad day in the courts for Donald Trump, as the D.C. Circuit Appeals Court unanimously rejected his claim for immunity from crimes committed while he was President. The betting market wasn't surprised at all, with his odds to win in November basically unmoved. The news merely confirmed the trend.

Court defeats and costs mounting up

Trump is losing big, over and over again. Twice to E Jean Carroll, who is now due $88m in compensation after a court ruled Trump had defamed her, following a previous court ruling that he had raped her. In New York, where the Trump Organization has been found to have committed fraud, fines that could stretch to $340m await.

In each situation, Trump's defence has been farcical, including self-harming mistakes by his own lawyers. He is bleeding money in legal costs, as is the Republican Party whose coffers are paying for much of them.

Leaving aside the question of solvency - always a known unknown with Trump - does this strike you as a man well-equipped for four major criminal trials, for 91 indictments?

Jan 6th trial likely to be during campaign

Trump will now appeal yesterday's verdict to the Supreme Court. Legal experts estimate the updated timeline will mean Trump's first trial - regarding his actions leading up to and during the January 6th insurrection - will take place during September and October.

Think about that. The election ramps into top gear from the beginning of September. The campaign will be dominated by one of the candidates being on trial for having tried to violently overturn the previous election.

All the while, presumably refusing to commit to accepting the results of the next one, or cool down his supporters. Trump will have to combine court appearances alongside rallies, where he will likely say things that impact his cases.

A visitor from Mars, or just somebody who can remember politics before 2016, would never believe this situation was real. Let alone that this person could be favourite to win the Presidency. Yet Trump most certainly is the favourite on Betfair. His 2.285/4 odds on the Exchange imply a 44% chance of victory, compared to 33% for Joe Biden at 3.02/1.

Despite everything, Trump is ahead

Moreover, based on polls, he is entitled to be favourite. National polls at this stage are inconsistent, inconclusive due to large numbers of don't knows and stronger than usual third party shares, but the broad trend is very different from the last two elections.

Donald Trump after New Hampshire win.jpg

Trump very rarely led against Hillary Clinton and much less frequently against Biden. The central question in US politics was 'Trump or not?' and the answer was nearly always negative, whether that be polls on approvals, wanting him impeached, agreeing with criminal charges, committing to never vote for him.

Despite that, Trump massively overperformed expectations both times. Given recent Republican failures in mid-term elections, it appears a significant tranche of voters will only turn out for Trump and that dynamic skews the polls.

Biden coalition will be tough to replicate

The question in 2024 is not solely 'Trump or not?' and now, Trump is generally tied or ahead. Biden's average approval rating is stubbornly below 40%. That's around a quarter down on his peak, when marshalling 81M votes in 2020.

Even that historic turnout was only just enough. His combined advantage in the six closest swing states was around 300K. That coalition cannot afford to fray, and it clearly is. If Trump can energise his base to the same extent as in 2020, he should win. The Republican GOTV campaign will likely have improved, too.

If the Biden coalition was the anti-Trump coalition, it was built on the daily evidence of Trump misdeeds. The constant drama has been largely absent since he left office, but it will be taking centre stage again this summer. That reminder will help rebuild the coalition that is opposed to Trump.

Minor candidates are hurting Biden

But equally, it's old news and voters not happy with the status quo may look back at the Trump era more positively than in 2020. Four years ago, there was no credible small party challenge, making it easier for both men to marshall their coalition.

This time, Robert F Kennedy Jr is polling well and raising big money, while Cornel West and Jill Stein appeal to voters who would otherwise likely lean Biden. Even if their combined share ends up below 5% I'm convinced these small parties will help Trump.

Would a conviction ruin Trump?

The exception, and perhaps saving grace for Biden, is the prospect of a Trump conviction. In that scenario, minor candidates could provide a home for anti-Bidens who can't abide voting for Trump if he is a felon. Poll after poll, whether general election or Republican primary voters, show Trump will take a polling hit if convicted.

There is a scenario where a conviction leads to a Biden landslide. However I wouldn't overstate current polls. Plenty will consider the timing of the trial too political, and suspicious. Trump frequently polls badly upon his worst misdeeds among Republicans, before bouncing back.

In the short-term, I expect those Trump odds to shorten. The legal timeline ensures he won't be convicted before landing the nomination, and probably will not even be on trial by then. At that point we are in to a head-to-head situation. If Trump is within two points of Biden, let alone ahead, Trump has to be odds-on favourite.

Biden odds also likely to contract

By the same token, Biden is entitled to go a lot shorter than 3.02/1. For all the legitimate doubts about his age and re-electability, he is cruising towards the nomination. If the Democrats have a 'plan b', it is a very well kept secret. As explained previously, their candidate will almost certainly either be Biden or Kamala Harris.

Biden worries US flag.jpg

There is a fair chance that Biden is the one at odds-on come the summer. Undecideds lean his way. Left-leaning groups - young or black voters for example - whom are currently cold on Biden will largely return to the fold if Trump is the opponent. Compared to current polling, Biden has far more room to grow.

At this stage of the last three US election cycles, I held a very strong opinion, in favour of Obama, Clinton and Biden, and bet accordingly. This time, I'm strangely on the fence and only have a small outlay.

If pressed to pick a single trade right now, it is Biden at 3.02/1. But I do make Trump favourite and forecast that when we get to the conventions in July/August, the odds will be something like Trump 1.75/7, Biden 2.47/5.

Now Read US Election 2024: Betfair goes to Washington D.C.

Follow Paul on Twitter and check out his website, Political Gambler.


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