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The Bookies and the British Election

The British general election in May is too close to call, mainly owing to declining support for the two major parties, Labour and the Conservatives, and the rise of populist parties on their flanks. So, though economic recovery should benefit Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives, that might not be enough to ensure victory.

LONDON – I used to be considered a pretty good forecaster of British and other countries’ elections. I was, after all, once a party chairman.

I can now confess my method. It was not based on any novel political insight. I did not have a magic algorithm relating economic factors to voting intentions – though I do think that there is some correlation between net disposable income and how people normally vote. But my own technique, which I still use, has proved more reliable than even poring over the political entrails in every constituency.

What I do is not very sophisticated: I watch the bookmakers’ odds. Doing so proved invaluable as recently as the Scottish independence referendum last September. Two days before the count, bookmakers were paying out to gamblers who had bet that Scotland would vote “No” to independence. Guess which way Scotland actually voted.

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