In a Bonus.com survey, 53% of American sports bettors said they would be more likely to vote in an election they bet on while 33% said they would not be more likely to vote on an election they bet on. The final 14% was unsure. Sports betting already engages bettors in games that fans may not watch otherwise. It would be unsurprising to find the same effect in elections if political betting was legalized.
This finding could give ammunition to both critics and supporters. Supporters could view political betting as a way to engage voting blocs that don’t usually turn out — mostly young people. Opponents could raise fears about voters casting ballots based on which candidate they bet on rather than which candidate they’d like to win.
In both cases, supporters and opponents would have to check their gut reactions.
Other countries, including the United Kingdom and Canada, allow election betting. Both countries ranked highly on the 2021 Democracy Index. Both countries’ election markets are also dominated by American political races. However, UK and Canadian sportsbooks have offered lines on their own countries’ major elections, too, and neither democracy has collapsed.
Election betting also doesn’t guarantee greater participation. In a study at the University of Minnesota, researchers identified several reasons for participating in politics, including:
- Feeling threatened by oppressive policies
- Thinking there’s a chance to move policy in a favorable direction
- Being motivated by identity or value issues
A voter bloc feeling like they’re under attack or being enraged by an unfair policy is more likely to get those voters out to the polls than making a game out of the election. Lobbyists know how important an election in their favor can be. Regular voters are heavily influenced by pocketbook issues, so they have plenty to gain at the polls.
It’s hard to believe election betting is more likely to get voters — even young voters — to vote than issues like abortion, health care, gun violence, immigration, or inflation.
Political Betting and Changed Incentives
Critics of election betting may worry that even a small bloc of voters that voted based on their bets instead of their values could flip a close election. In close elections, that argument seems to have more merit. The 1960 Presidential Election was only won by about 120,000 votes. George W. Bush won the 2000 Presidential Election by just over 537 Florida votes and a Supreme Court decision.
But, for better or worse, Americans have the right to vote using whatever criteria they choose. Mitt Romney wrote his wife in when he voted in the 2016 election. He didn’t support Donald Trump, but he couldn’t bring himself to vote outside his party, either. Other voters write in names like Mickey Mouse or Betty White. Those voters don’t go to prison, nor should they. The right to vote is also the right to waste one’s vote.
Potential election bettors are consistent overall in how they’d bet and vote. 45% of survey respondents wouldn’t bet on a candidate they voted against while 43% wouldn’t vote against a candidate they bet on. About a third of bettors would vote and bet differently, and the remaining fifth or so are unsure.
Many election wagers would be the same as their votes. Even if they weren’t, it wouldn’t be a reason to worry about election betting. More so, it’d be a reason to worry that Americans were disengaged from serious political issues.