As US primaries rumble on, betting markets declare the Sanders campaign all but dead

“The race for the Democratic nomination is in the home stretch and victory is in sight,” declared Hillary Clinton in the victory speech heralding her resounding New York primary triumph over Bernie Sanders. If anything, that’s an understatement.

Heading into five high-stakes primaries on April 26, it’s difficult now to envisage any path that could lead Bernie Sanders to victory over Clinton in either pledged delegates or the popular vote. There is even less chance that Sanders’ supporters will be “feeling the Bern” come the July nominating convention, when the party’s superdelegates are added into the equation.

Yet on MSNBC, Jeff Weaver, the campaign manager for Sanders, said that his candidate would stay in the race all the way to the convention even if Clinton had the pledged delegate and vote lead at the conclusion of the primary season. This tells us a lot about the nature and purpose of the Sanders campaign for some time now: more than a protest movement, but less than a serious run for the nomination.

Even before New York, the Princeton Election Consortium gave Hillary Clinton more than a 95% chance of securing a majority of delegates at the party convention in late July. Even if Sanders had scored as well as the inaccurate initial exit polling suggested, which would have put him only four points behind Clinton, he would still have had an Everest-sized mountain to climb to win enough pledged delegates thanks to the Democratic Party’s system of proportional allocation.

He did have one vague hope: the so-called momentum strategy. If he could win New York, trade off the momentum, and sweep the remaining states by large majorities, the theory was that he might be able to swing the superdelegates his way on the premise that voters had turned to him late in the game. This was a pipe dream. The idea of “momentum” is pretty much a myth in politics, except in the short window of time that it might be possible to persuade potential campaign donors that it is not a myth.

The farcical nature of this argument was proved on both sides when the New York results came in. While Sanders had the “momentum” on the Democratic side, coming off a long string of victories, Republican Ted Cruz was buoyed by a similar run of strong showings. Both of these candidates got hammered: Cruz came last, behind the governor of Ohio, John Kasich – so far, the winner of only his home state.

Ominous signs

To read much of the media coverage, New York was meant to be a close thing. But the betting and prediction markets had a closer handle on the real state of play even before Sanders boarded his flight for a bizarre pre-primary jaunt to the Vatican – and they have responded sharply to the result.

In the run-up to New York’s decision, iPredict, the New Zealand-based real money prediction market, gave Hillary Clinton an 86% chance of winning the Democratic nomination. Pivit, the prediction market-cum-information aggregator, gave her 93%. PredictIt put Clinton’s probability of running as the Democrat standard-bearer at 89%, while she was trading at an implied probability of 90% on the Betfair exchange. Predictwise, the crowd wisdom aggregation site, pinpointed her nomination chance as 93%, while the Hypermind prediction market had it as 89%. At best bookmaker odds, she was also trading as an 89% shot. Almanis, the crowd wisdom platform, was the least bearish about Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the eventual nomination, giving her an 85% chance before the New York Primary.

The pre-primary predictions all painted a similar picture: a Sanders campaign in a lot more trouble than was implied by the media portrayal of a late surge. It especially mismatched the campaign’s self-image, which held up a series of massive rallies in New York City as evidence that the race had somehow fundamentally changed.

So how does the landscape look now? Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the Democratic nomination have risen yet further on every betting and prediction market. On iPredict she stands at 93% (from 86%), on Pivit at 96% (from 93%), on PredictIt at 93% (from 89%), on Betfair at 94% (from 90%), on PredictWise at 96% (from 93%), on Hypermind at 96% (from 89%), on Almanis at 87% (from 85%), at best bookmaker odds on 94% (from 89%).

Get ready, America. EPA/Justin Lane/Andrew Gombert

Next up are five simultaneous primaries: three big ones in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Connecticut, along with two relatively tiny ones in Delaware and Rhode Island. Sanders is widely expected to lose all of them, bar Rhode Island, decisively.

Yet much of the US media sees this as very far from over, predicting the likely nominees are in for the ride of their lives to get to the conventions.

But the media, of course, has something to gain from portraying the Democratic race as a nail-biter, and Trump’s frontrunner status as rather more tenuous than it is. But barring the totally unexpected, Hillary Clinton will be the Democrat to face off against whoever the Republicans end up running. And after his runaway victory in New York, where he won more than 50% of the vote for the first time (in fact, more than 60%) and picked up almost all the state’s delegates, that’s currently most likely to be Trump. According to the markets and crowd wisdom sites, he currently stands more than a 2-in-3 chance of becoming the nominee.

And so, now that both frontrunners have recovered from their rough patches, we’re back to the race as it looked in mid-March: Clinton versus Trump. And if that’s the match-up, the odds-makers have Clinton the very clear favourite.