04 May 2010

Betting on the British Election

If you've been following international news lately, you've probably heard something of the upcoming British general election. This one's a doozy for a variety of reasons, the foremost being that projected success by the centrist Liberal Democrats threatens to upset the longstanding two-party system.

A lot of the recent news, however, has been about the most recent TV debate has shifted the odds in favor of a Conservative (aka Tory) victory. Previously, bookmakers had put their money on a hung parliament.

Which begs the question: how many people actually bet on election outcomes in the UK? I haven't been able to find any hard data, but marketing campaigns by the big gambling chains suggest that they actually expect to make some money off those bets. As an American, this seems kind of odd to me: gambling is really not a huge part of American life, and is usually limited to the more conventional bets and games. But here in the UK, it's hard to walk more than a couple blocks on any commercial street without passing a betting parlor or two, and many of the bets advertised in the window are pretty exotic.

Stranger still is the use of published gambling odds in political advertising. Nana spotted a sign touting a Liberal Democrat candidate's odds as a come-on to potential voters: Labour, it seems, has been claiming that Lib Dem candidates can't win and any vote for a Lib Dem candidate is as good as a vote for a Tory (American third-party supporters will recognize this argument), so the Lib Dems have been very vocal when bookmakers have given them good odds of success.

An interesting bit of bandwagon propaganda . . . but could you imagine an American politician doing the same thing?

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