Following Eric Cantor’s shock loss in a Virginia primary this week, I thought I’d have a look back at some of the biggest surprises in the world of political betting in recent years.
1. Hillary Clinton wins the 2008 New Hampshire Primary at 100/1
Five days previously Barack Obama had won the Iowa Democratic primary, in theory a much less promising contest for him than liberal New Hampshire. He was well ahead in the state’s polls. Everyone agreed he would win; you could have backed Hillary Clinton at 100/1 on the day. Sensationally, she won by 39% – 36% and the two went on to fight out one of the closest and most dramatic nomination races in history.
2. George Galloway wins the 2012 Bradford West by-election at 33/1
Apparently available at 250/1 with Paddy Powers, Ladbrokes put out a cautious 33/1 quote when Gorgeous George announced he would be standing in this rock-solid Labour seat for Respect. A flood of public money forced his price down to 5/1 on polling day. There hadn’t been any polling of the seat, so it was a total shock when he won with a staggering 55% of the vote. Ladbrokes had their worst by-election losses ever.
3. David Miliband loses the Labour Leadership from 1/5
During the summer of 2010, David Miliband hit a low price of 1/5 to replace Gordon Brown as Labour leader and political punters piled into what looked like a certainty. He remained odds-on until the eve of the announcement when his brother Ed took over as last gasp favourite. Ed had been as big as 33/1 in the early days of Brown’s reign.
4. Jorge Bergoglio becomes Pope at 50/1
Perhaps not strictly speaking politics, although a vote nonetheless. The future Pope Francis was an almost totally unbacked 50/1 shot to get the job and was missed by all of the media Vatican “experts”. This was a huge betting heat, but the biggest bet on the Argentinian was a princely £15.
5. David Brat defeats Eric Cantor in 2014 GOP House Primary at..100/1?
I’m not aware that anyone actually issued odds on this contest, but from what can be made out in retrospect, 100/1 seems about right for an unknown, underfunded candidate up against one of the most high profile Republican names in Congress. What polling there was showed Cantor well ahead and even the Brat campaign seemed genuinely astonished at the result.