Crowdsourcing is where you outsource a task to an undefined, generally large group of people. Democracy is, in a way, a crowdsourcing method of choosing rulers, on the basis that the outcome of a choice made by a million people is, if not better, at least more representative than a choice made by fewer people.
Until the actual election though, anyone interested in knowing how it might turn out is usually limited to a few opinion polls. Happily, though, we have an alternative crowdsource that can provide an indication, via the betting public.
Paddy Power, a betting firm (aka bookie), allows people to place bets on the outcomes of future events, mostly sporting but also political, and the aggregated bets influence the odds. The bookie sets the odds to provide an incentive to betters while trying to avoid losing money. The odds set represent the bookie's best interpretation of the likelihood of an outcome based upon the collective 'wisdom' of the crowd. Since money is at stake people tend to 'vote' as accurately as they can, rather than on party political grounds.
The initial odds being quoted by Paddy Power to the question 'Who will win the most first preference votes?' in the European Parliament election in June is as follows:
Bairbre de Brun: 4-5
Diane Dodds: evens
Jim Nicholson: 10-1
Jim Allister: 14-1
Alban Maginness: 25-1
Steven Agnew: 80-1
Alliance Party: 80-1
[For betting novices, the fractional odds show the multiple of an original bet that the punter wins if the outcome occurs. In other words, if Bairbre de Brun tops the poll, a punter who placed their bet at those odds will get his original stake back, plus four-fifths of that stake, or 180% of the stake. A bet placed on Dodds will see a return of the stake plus its same value, or 200%. As the likelihood becomes less and less likely, the odds go up. If Steven Agnew tops the poll, whoever placed a bet on that happening will win back his stake, plus 80 times the stake.]
What this shows is that, irrespective of the spin and noise created by the political parties and the media, at this early point the average punter tends to think that Sinn Féin will top the poll in June.
This blog will revisit Paddy Power from time to time during the campaign to see how these odds change.
Paddy Power is also taking bets on the very interesting question of how many first preference votes Jim Allister will get. Here the results are:
0 - 10,000: 7-1
10,001 - 20,000: 9-2
20,001 - 30,000: 3-1
30,001 - 40,000: 9-4
40,001 - 50,000: 4-1
50,001 - 60,000: 6-1
60,001 or more: 4-1
These odds show that the average punter sees Allister most likely getting between 20,000 and 30,000 first preference votes, or between 3.5% and 5% depending on the turnout. There is some evidence (4-1) that some punters see him getting a considerably higher score, but it is not clear how many bets these odds are based on. As time goes on, and the number of bets placed increases, the odds should get clearer and the crowdsourcing more accurate. For the DUP, of course, the question of Allister's votes (which otherwise would probably be their votes) is of great importance.
As horse racing sometimes shows, crowdsourcing through betting is not always accurate, but at least it provides an alternative to the opinion polls. It will be interesting to see, when it is all over, how accurately the punters called it.