Opinion polls go up and down, but for those with money on the line, Mitt Romney is now a heavy favourite to win the 2012 Republican presidential nomination and go on to challenge US President Barack Obama.
Two electronic markets that allow wagering on real-world events have the former Massachusetts governor well ahead, days before the first votes are tallied in a months-long series of state elections to pick the Republican nominee.
The Iowa Electronic Markets (IEM) showed on Friday a bid for Romney to win the nomination at 0.779 and an offer at 0.790, meaning expectations for his victory are 78.3 per cent, against about 51 per cent at the start of December.
IEM has been operated by the University of Iowa since 1988, chiefly as an educational and research project.
Real money is on the line, albeit not exactly at Las Vegas or Wall Street levels; trading accounts can be opened for $5 to $500.
Romney’s closest Republican challenger is currently “none of the above”, at 8.2 per cent, followed by Texas Representative Ron Paul and former US House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich in the six per cent range.
Intrade, a Dublin-based prediction market, shows Romney with a 77.4 per cent chance of capturing the Republican nomination.
The exchange offers contracts on various current events, from Obama’s approval rating to who Herman Cain will endorse in the Republican race.
Both exchanges provide real-time snapshots of which candidates are gaining or losing ground, without the built-in biases and randomness of opinion polls.
For Iowa, current prices suggest that Tuesday’s caucuses are still too close to call, but with Paul favoured for a strong showing, and Romney gaining momentum.
On IEM, Romney’s chances of finishing in the top two in Iowa had fallen to 30 per cent in mid-December, from 87 per cent a month earlier.
As of Friday, though, betters predict Paul and Romney will finish one-two in Iowa, though not necessarily in that order.
Bets on Iowa at Intrade have fluctuated, but now show Romney with a 46 per cent chance to win against Paul’s 38 per cent.
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has rallied to a 12.8 per cent chance of winning, from just two per cent a few days ago.
Intrade also reflects the current sentiment among political pundits that a surprise win in Iowa could energise the Romney campaign and set up an early knockout.
It shows a 33 per cent chance that Romney will sweep the first five Republican nominating contests – Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and Nevada – against about a 12 per cent chance at the start of December.