In recent years the global political landscape has been more exhilarating than a box set of Game of Thrones, replete with far more intrigue, drama and backstabbing. We have seen shock result after shock result, as cataclysmic events take place with alarming regularity and embarrassed pollsters routinely look for somewhere to hide. Some punters have made a killing by going against the grain, and here are the biggest political betting shocks since political betting became a thing:
Trump wins the US election
We had to start with this, the greatest political upset of all-time, which saw a TV personality who once suffered a Stone Cold Stunner on WWE become the most powerful man in the world. Donald Trump, who fires people on The Apprentice, who made cameos in Home Alone 2 and The Simpsons, a man with no political experience whatsoever, won the presidential election. Not only did he win, he beat Hillary Clinton, the most archetypal political establishment figure imaginable. She is married to the former president and had just served as Secretary of State in Barack Obama’s reign, and she represented a party that appeared to be in the total ascendancy. Meanwhile Trump massively offended women, black people, Hispanic people, all manner of minority groups, and he still won.
In doing so, he completely upended US political thinking and the bookmakers took an absolute pasting. Trump started off as 100/1 to win the election, and was backed all the way in to 13/8, but remained the underdog throughout. One bookmaker even paid out on Clinton in the previous October, when she had a healthy lead in the polls, and they suffered badly again when Trump triumphed. Trump has widely been pilloried during his time as president, but it is not hard to imagine him winning the next election too as he has a devout legion of followers, so that could be worth bearing in mind when analysing the political betting markets.
Britain votes for Brexit
Before Trump turned the world on its head, Britain had already sent shockwaves across the globe by voting in favour of exiting the EU. The Remain camp was well ahead in the polls during campaigning, and it was expected to secure a comfortable victory. However, Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and co masterminded a victory that paved the way for Trump’s, one based on powerful slogans, effective social media campaigning and bold claims that were not necessarily factual. Remain was the huge favourite and Leave was a heavy outsider, and the bookmakers were accused of getting it wrong when Brexit was voted through. But bookies are not pollsters and their job is not to predict the outcome of an election. They are businesses trying to make money, and the Brexit vote was an extremely profitable one for them as many punters were lumping on Remain. Those that went against the crowd also made a killing.
Conservatives defy the odds in 2015
A few years ago all the UK polls had Labour as the overwhelming favourites to beat the Tories in the general election. David Cameron’s government was reeling and the bookmakers responded by offering huge odds of 7/1 on a Conservative majority. It was therefore a surprise when a pensioner walked into a branch of Ladbrokes in Glasgow and put £30,000 on a Tory majority, all in crisp £50 notes. Reporters were incredulous, but that punter must have been laughing all the way to the bank when the Conservatives absolutely trounced Ed Miliband’s party and won 330 seats.
Corbyn wins the Labour leadership contest
Miliband’s crushing election defeat sparked his immediate resignation and an ensuing leadership contest. Andy Burnham was the early favourite, followed by Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, and the marginal, left-leaning backbencher Jeremy Corbyn was a 100/1 outsider. He is arguably Trump’s polar opposite, but Corbyn is another man that represents an utter rejection of the political establishment. He had made the fewest expenses claims of any MP, had voted against his party more than 500 times and was a long-time peace activist. Corbynmania swept the nation, and he ended up cruising to victory in the leadership contest. He has since defied several attempts from within the party to overthrow his leadership and nearly won the last general election, performing far better than was expected, ending the Conservatives’ majority and destroying Theresa May’s credibility.
Ventura fights his way to success
The US has seen some interesting political candidates achieve shock success, from Trump and Ronald Reagan to Arnold “The Governator” Schwarzenegger, but it is pretty hard to top Jesse Ventura’s 1998 victory in the race to be named Minnesota’s governor. Ventura, a former wrestler nicknamed The Body, was the ultimate novelty candidate and never expected to win. He was an independent with no manifesto, doing it for a joke, up against Norm Coleman, a Republican, and Skip Humphrey, a Democrat. Ventura was so sure he would lose that he had booked a flight to Argentina the day after the election, but he had to cancel it and hastily put together a victory speech after a shock win.
Martin Green is an experienced tipster and betting correspondent and has been fascinated by political developments over the last few years.