Updated: May 24, 2022
HOW TO THINK ABOUT POLITICS (AND MAKE MONEY BETTING ON ELECTIONS)
“Government is the entertainment division of the Military-Industrial Complex.” (Frank Zappa)
“Politicians view their constituencies as batteries– the greater the difference between the two extremes, the more power they have.” (DannyM.)
“Hey-HEY! Ho-HO! <Insert Name Here> has GOT to GO!” (Political Cheerleaders Everywhere)
Our rules here at Danny’s Table are strict and clear: no political discussion allowed on this site. The two wings of American mainstream politics— the Liberal Left and the Conservative Right— obviously perceive the same issues and situations so differently that there is little likelihood of getting one to remotely consider the merit of the other’s perspective on any issue. Even citing an especially clear-cut example of this is to run the risk of inciting a war in the comment section, so I won’t. That being said, I think it is worth examining how people think about politics rather than what they think, so we’ll look inside the skulls of partisans and see how their minds work… or don’t. And then we’ll reveal how you can make money betting on political outcomes.
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When it comes to politics, the best subject I can think of for illustrative dissection and metaphorical organ-harvesting is high school basketball, the fundamental components of which are the Players, Coaches, Referees, and CHEERLEADERS. (I have nothing against cheerleaders; some of my best old girlfriends were cheerleaders.)
The Players are the candidates– all they care about is winning. The Coaches are the pollsters and political advisor class– they are similarly focused on winning, but they are also knowledgeable and realistic about their teams’ chances against their current opponent, and so they formulate game plans and strategies for maximizing their chances, however slim. The Referees are the free and impartial press as envisioned by our founding fathers, but which of course no longer exists as such. And the CHEERLEADERS are in all caps because they comprise what has become by far the most important group as it relates to current politics.
It is a sad commentary on society that our collective ignorance in the areas of Law, History, and Civics 101 has reduced most of our population– including the press– to the political equivalent of CHEERLEADERS… arch-partisan pom-pom wavers who know next to nothing about the contest right before them, and yet remain absolutely certain that their team is the best, never commits a foul, and that the other team can only win by cheating. Political Cheerleaders (on both sides of the political divide) tend to operate from very small fact tables and instead hold political views that are based primarily on ideology… and seemingly wired directly to their emotions.
Rather than strive to expand their knowledge and understanding, Political Cheerleaders tend to stovepipe themselves with a steady stream of one-sided blather that corroborates their existing world view. They scrupulously (and, perhaps, lazily) avoid exposing themselves to anything that might challenge it or take them out of their narrow comfort zones. It certainly doesn’t help that our once (mostly) fair-minded press– the news divisions of television, radio, and newspapers– have prioritized partisanship, profits, and pom-pom waving over fairly and intelligently presenting all sides of every issue. And why not? There’s no money in presenting the plain truth, especially when they can stimulate viewership by broadcasting what was once merely the daily news as a never-ending series of life-and-death crises. (I’m old enough to remember when winter snowfall wasn’t newsworthy… nowadays the mere possibility of January snowflakes activates our local @StormTeam24 wall-to-wall coverage complete with dramatic storm-cam footage of actual snow plows and Doppler radar imagery. Anything for eyeballs, I guess.)
But what I think is worse than the shameless dramatization of everyday events is the obvious death of objectivity in political coverage. Alas, it seems that the referees have morphed into cheerleaders and chosen their favorite teams, depriving us of the flow of factual content so necessary to an informed electorate.
And so, dear readers, I respectfully ask– have YOU become a Political Cheerleader? For useful self-examination we channel Jeff Foxworthy:
If you get most of your “news” from Facebook or Twitter, you might be a cheerleader.
If you have strong feelings about gun ownership (either way) but have never actually read D.C. v. Heller, (both the thoroughly detailed majority opinion and the eloquent and scholarly dissent) you might be a cheerleader.
If you have strong feelings (either way) about the disposition of immigrant children at our southern border but lack any familiarity with the Flores Consent Decree, then you might be a cheerleader.
If you hold statements made by the opposition to a higher standard of proof than those made by your own side, you might be a cheerleader. (While it is certainly understandable to believe your side more readily than the other, unequal standards of proof are a downhill path to self-delusion.)
And finally, if you are easily triggered to anger by the mere mention of politicians or policies you don’t like… if you can’t stand to even be around people with views different from yours… if you’ve permanently damaged relationships with (former) friends and even family members because of politics… then being a cheerleader is perhaps the least of your problems.
If you’ve answered “yes” to any of the above, you are far from alone. How did we get here? How did the richest, free-est, most powerful nation in the history of the world become so polarized?
I find it astonishing that we live in an age with nearly unfettered access to information (like the above-referenced court cases) and yet it seems that people are less informed than ever about the issues supposedly important to them. There are a lot of institutions and simple realities worthy of blame for this. For a concise illustration of the role of the American media, let’s look at what I think is an especially great bit of drama.
In the HBO series THE NEWSROOM, actor Jeff Daniels portrayed cable news anchor Will McAvoy, the character whose epic rant (profanity alert) in the show’s pilot about the present state of America has become an Internet legend. Less popular among YouTubers, however, is his apology on behalf of the media– what I consider the very finest moment in one of my favorite shows of all time. It still gets me wistfully pondering an alternative universe whenever I compare Will McAvoy’s vision of what a free press could and should be to the stinking, corrupt sewer of misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda it has sadly become. (And if you’re still pissed at McAvoy for bullying the “sorority girl” in the epic rant, know that they fix that nicely in Season One’s finale.) If you are one-tenth as interested in the interface of politics and journalism as I am, I highly recommend paying HBO so you can watch this fantastic series in its entirety.
So, how does one discuss politics with Political Cheerleaders? You don’t, because more likely than not you’ll find yourself engaged in what I call a “Sumo on Ice” argument, i.e., each side ineffectually spinning his or her feet in the absence of the traction afforded by a mutually acceptable set of truths upon which each side can postulate a position. But you can make money betting on politics provided you know more than the pool of fellow bettors who collectively set the odds. And one look at the comment section at predictit.org should convince you that you’ll be betting against Political Cheerleaders… meaning that there are some easy pickings to be had. And since you’ll never change the minds of the cheerleaders there or anywhere else, you might as well help yourself to some of their money.
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THE WORLD OF PREDICTIT
Predictit was launched in 2014 by the Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, ostensibly for “research purposes.” (This sounds to me suspiciously similar to whale-meat-loving Japan’s annual slaughter of hundreds of majestic leviathans under the guise of expanding mankind’s scientific knowledge… in other words, research, my ass.) However, Predictit was sufficiently convincing to our Federal Commodity Futures Trading Commission that it was issued a “letter of no action,” essentially immunizing Predictit from prosecution for promoting online gaming. But there are limits– every election or issue open for betting is limited to 5,000 bettors, and there is a $850 cap on individual “investments” per question.
Here’s how these “investments” work. First you have to register and move some money into your account. Now, let’s say the upcoming 2024 presidential election comes down to… I dunno, let’s see… How can I avoid offending people? For our purposes here we’ll make it Tom Brady versus Snoop Dogg. The market (the pool of bettors) quickly establishes the share prices for each. Let’s say that the market on Labor Day 2024 settles at a point where we can buy “YES” shares for Candidate Brady for $.60 and YES for Candidate Dogg for $.45. If Brady wins, holders of the Brady YES shares receive $1 and the holders of Dogg YES shares get nothing, and vice-versa if Dogg becomes POTUS 47. Now, let’s suppose that surveillance video emerges of Brady sneaking into the opponent’s locker room before his son’s high school game and surreptitiously spiking their Gatorade with similarly-flavored colonoscopy prep. In the wake of the metaphorical and physical s**tstorm, the market price of Brady YES shares might plummet to $.35 overnight while the Dogg YES shares surge to $.70 as panicked Brady shareholders sell their holdings for less than they paid, fearing that otherwise they will lose everything. Other Brady shareholders opt to nervously sit tight, while still others, remaining fully confident of TB12’s eventual electoral victory, might see it as a buying opportunity and load up on more shares at the lower price. Meanwhile, some Dogg shareholders might opt to unload their positions at $.70/share and take the profit rather than sweat it out until Election Day. After a day or so of furious trading, the market resettles at $.55 for Brady YES and $.48 for Dogg YES.
Note that the YES shares for both Brady and Dogg always add up to slightly more than $1.00. That way bettors can’t make money by betting both sides, and also the house (Predictit) always wins. Furthermore, because it is ostensibly a “research project,” Predictit takes a 10% of your profits and another 5% of your withdrawals to cover its operating expenses. This affects my betting and account management decisions in two ways– One, I see no point in betting on favorites; rather, the only way to make significant profits is to find markets that are irrationally priced at well below $.50/share. And Two, I leave at least some of my winnings in my account so I don’t pay the withdrawal fee when I know I’ll likely be betting on future contests.
So, can you actually make money at this? Nobody gets rich via Predictit.org. But yes, you can make a little money… enough to validate your superior knowledge and reasoning in lieu of actually changing other people’s minds. But you have to know what you are doing… you have to know more than the cheerleaders. Which means you have to get good at figuring out what is really going on. You want the truth?
Here are some helpful guidelines for finding it–
Develop A Reliable BS Meter
I am known by many of my friends to have a reasonably accurate BS Meter, the basis of which is, in my estimation, nothing more than the combination of a logical mind and a basic working knowledge of subjects such as science, statistics, probability, and civics. For just one example of something that recently set it off, this item used to make the rounds on Facebook because people who read it took it at face value and uncritically re-posted it–
July 2022 has 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays, and 5 Sundays.
This happens only once every 823 years.
The Chinese call it “silver pockets full” or "money bags."
A few seconds of brain activity should spark the realization that this happens every time the first day of a 31-day month falls on a Friday, as it does not only in July of 2022 but also in December of 2023, March of 2024, August of 2025, etc., or an average of about once per year.
If you are over 55, a rigorous high school education is a sufficient basis for a good healthy BS Meter. For the relatively youthful among us, I recommend visiting used bookstores or scouring eBay for textbooks older than 1979, when the U.S. Department of Education was established.
The actual definition of “knowledge” is so strict that, when it comes to politics, it precludes much of what we strongly believe to be true. So… take everything you hear with a grain or more of salt until your cardiologist orders otherwise. Always allow room in your heart and mind to consider the possibility that something you strongly believe might turn out to be wrong, and vice-versa. Recall that it was the CIA that coined the term “conspiracy theory” to ridicule and discredit those who suspected that Lee Harvey Oswald wasn’t solely responsible for the JFK assassination… and also recall that yesterday’s “conspiracy theory” is often today’s accepted explanation.
It’s All On Tape
With a quick visit to YouTube and a few clicks you can see just about anything. For just two examples, how about footage of Democrat leaders positing (Pre-Trump) the need for a southern border wall, or of Republican leaders, having torpedoed President Obama’s SCOTUS nomination of Merrick Garland, swearing that they would never try to seat a GOP nominee during an election year? (Like they did without hesitation in late 2020 when RBG died.) Although a lot of politicians seem to sometimes forget this, EVERYTHING is recorded for posterity.
The Petrosian Test
Grandmaster Tigran Petrosian, the 9th official World Chess Champion (1963-69), was famous for his excruciatingly cautious style of play. In stark contrast to the dashing and romantic gambiteers of the 19th century who sacrificed pieces with wild abandon, GM Petrosian relied on slow, almost imperceptible strangulation of the board and his opponents’ positions until they found themselves paralyzed. His successor as champion, GM Boris Spassky, once quipped, “If Petrosian ever offers you a piece, resign!” implying that if Petrosian ever ventured so far out of character as to sacrifice material, it would surely be part of a game-ending forced checkmate. To generalize, whenever someone strays way out of their normal M.O., it is probably for a good reason. Applied to the media’s coverage of politics, we all pretty much know how Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow will cover a particular issue because they are both arch-partisan and similarly predictable. However, I think it is safe to say that if you ever hear Hannity fact-check Donald Trump or Maddow fact-check Bernie Sanders, their words would count for way more than usual.
The Reverse Footwear Test
Whenever you hear about a politician getting in trouble, ask yourself (and answer honestly) whether he or she would be treated differently by the media or even the DOJ if the situation were the mirror opposite, i.e., if the shoe were on the other foot. Sometimes, it seems, the only difference between an art thief and someone who takes nice pictures is their political affiliation.
The Binary Correction Coefficient
Are the major Mainstream Media outlets biased? Yes. But media bias can be hard to see when following a particular outlet with which you mostly agree. However, we can turn to the fascinating world of probability for an easy answer. The odds of flipping a coin seven times and getting heads seven times are 1 in 128 (1 in 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2.) Even perfectly fair newspapers make mistakes and need to issue corrections… but if their inaccuracies all paint one side more negatively than the other– if they need to print seven corrections in a row that all go in the same direction– then we can infer that their reportage is systemically biased.
Open Your Purse
Are the Liberal Democrats trying to ban all guns and promote CRT in the classroom? Are the Conservative Republicans trying to outlaw abortion everywhere and allow prayer in schools? The quickest way to get the most honest answers to these and similar questions is to go right to the source. Just donate $20 to both the DNC and RNC and get on their email lists– they will regularly tell you in plain English what they want to do with the money they want you to keep sending. (Pro-Tip: you only have to donate once for a lifetime membership to these email groups.)
The Truth Doesn’t Care Where It Came From
When it comes to media coverage of politics, if something you’ve heard is true, then it doesn’t matter where you heard it. Indeed, what’s more important is where you DIDN’T hear it, because Lies of Omission are even more insidious than outright falsehoods; no correction is necessary for something that was never printed or aired.
Which brings us to–
No Pain, No Gain
Since Lies of Omission are so common and insidious, you need to listen to both sides of the media and keep a sharp ear for stories that one side is covering and the other isn’t. To put it bluntly, if you really want to know what is going on, you need to listen to people you don’t like saying things you don’t want to hear. If you do so with a wide open mind, you might actually hear a point from the other side that you grudgingly agree with.
Whether you are debating someone, scouring the news, or simply observing the world around you, always try to remember that WHAT is right is more important than WHO is right. By willing to be wrong once in a while, in the long run you will be right most of the time.
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Predictit Case Study: Herschel Walker For US Senator
Herschel Walker– the former University of Georgia football star (1980-82), Heisman Trophy Winner (1982) and USFL/NFL star (1983-97)-- is running for a U.S. Senate seat as a Trump-endorsed Republican in his native Georgia. His opponent is the Democrat incumbent Senator Rev. Ralph Warnock. Current polling shows them close but with Walker holding a slight lead. Does Herschel Walker still have a special place in the hearts of Georgians four decades after his collegiate pigskin heyday? Is the Trump endorsement (for better or worse) a magical advantage? Will the widely expected Red Wave sweep Walker to victory? Predictit “investors” seem to think so– Walker YES shares are currently priced at $.61 while Warnock’s sell for $.40.
As I write this it looks like one could likely pick up a little pocket change by betting on Walker. The political winds seem to be at his back. However, 5+ months is a long time in politics, and a lot can change between now and November 8th. Recall that Rev. Warnock came from way behind to win his seat in the special election of 2020… and, for whatever it’s worth, history teaches us that Herschel Walker knows a thing or two about getting caught from behind– https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WooPp3UVCp8 (Ignore the “unavailable” tag and click on the “Youtube” link.)
Like I said a few paragraphs ago– It’s All On Tape.