Breaking politics down to commodities

Filed under: Hazlehurst |

Make a guess — how many quasi-legitimate presidential candidates have surfaced so far? Don’t bother to guess — the list of those who actually show up in national polls is in the box in the far-right column. Nine Democrats, 12 Republicans — proving that Republicans are both more entrepreneurial and more delusional than Democrats.

More to the point, which of them have a shot at the brass ring? It’s still early, of course, but both parties appear to have a Big Three, and then there’s everyone else.

For the Dems: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards. For the GOPsters: Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and John McCain. Pretty obvious, but are there any wild cards? And if there are, how can we identify them? Forget about political analysis, or pollsters, or barroom arguments or newspaper columnists — here’s a way to get a clear, unbiased snapshot of the race at any point in time.

Just visit intrade.com, an Irish betting site, which runs a futures market in presidential candidates. This isn’t, strictly speaking, a wagering site; rather, it’s a way of buying and selling futures contracts.

Here’s how it works: intrade maintains an online market where traders can buy and sell presidential contracts. These are securities, whose value is determined by an auction market. The face value of every contract is $100, but the day after the nominating convention or the election, every contract but one is valueless.

As of last Monday, here’s what the action looked like:

McCain’s contract, at 26.2 bid, 26.5 asked, was dropping like a stone, down 3.8 from the day before. Giuliani was holding steady at 34.8/35, up 0.6., while Romney, at 19.5/19.8, was down 0.2.

No other candidate’s contract was selling for more than 5 bucks. And bringing up the back of the pack, no doubt to their mutual humiliation, were former Colorado governor Bill Owens and Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo. Their contracts were offered at 20 and 30 cents, but the highest bids were … 10 cents!

2008 Republican Presidential Nominees
Nominee Bid Ask Last Vol Chg
John McCain 26.2 26.5 26.2 76,753 -3.8
Rudy Giuliani 34.8 35 35.5 56,712 0.6
Mitt Romney 19.5 19.8 19.5 55,638 -0.2
Tom Tancredo 0.1 0.3 0.2 14,863 0
Bill Owens 0.1 0.2 0.1 19,528 0

On the Democratic side, Clinton led with 45/45.2, down 1.4. Obama was at 28.8/28.9, up a full 4.8. And John Edwards, at 9.5/10, had dropped behind non-candidate Al Gore, at 10.8/11.4. Bill Richardson, at 3.5/3.6, barely registers.

2008 Democratic Presidential Nominees
Nominee Bid Ask Last Vol Chg
Hillary Clinton 45 45.2 45.2 154,278 -1.4
Barack Obama 28.8 28.9 29.3 119,066 4.8
John Edwards 9.5 10 9.5 67,092 -0.5
Al Gore 10.8 11.4 11.5 163,104 -1.4

So what does it prove? Nothing much, except that if you’re a reasonably sophisticated investor, you can use the same tools you use in trading commodities, or picking stocks, to pick candidates.

Momentum player? Jump on the Obama bandwagon — all the technical indicators point up. Want to go with the industry leader? If you buy Microsoft on the dips, pick up some Clintons when they’re cheap. Looking for a potential sleeper? Buy Gore — your downside risk is minimal, and if he actually becomes a candidate, you’ll get a big pop.

And if you’re a penny stock maven, snatch up a bunch of Tancredos. A big immigration blowup/scandal should move the Tommies up to a dollar or more, for a 1,000 per cent gain!

It takes the nasty, partisan stuff out of politics, doesn’t it? Even if you hate Hillary or think that McCain is a deluded old geezer (takes one to know one), you might be able to make a few bucks off their candidacies. But treat them the way you’d treat your stock portfolio — balance your risk, establish target prices, pay attention to technical indicators and above all, don’t fall in love with any of the candidates. They’ll just pull an Enron on you when you’re not looking.

Meanwhile, City Council candidate forums (OK, fora) are going full speed for the next couple of weeks. If you’d like to show up and ask the candidates some truly squirm-inducing questions, here are a couple:

  • To the incumbents: Four years ago, all of you agreed that securing the city’s water supply by building the Southern Delivery System was your most important priority. Today, we’re no closer to building SDS than we were four years ago. Given your record, why should we believe that you can complete the task?
  • To the challengers: Explain, as briefly as possible, the basis of Colorado water law.
  • To all candidates: Most of you have repeatedly stated your objections to the city business personal property tax. Will you publicly pledge to either repeal it within 90 days of taking office or resign?
  • To all candidates: If elected, you’ll meet in the beautifully renovated City Hall and enjoy your own spacious private offices, perfectly climate-controlled and altogether pleasant. If this is good enough for a handful of politicians, why is it too expensive to renovate the City Auditorium for the benefit of thousands of ordinary residents?

I’m sure that they’ll be delighted to answer your questions — at least, until the election is over.

John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.