I hope you're not expecting a plot twist in the next few days, because the structure of my next few posts should be pretty clear by now. On Friday I looked at the constituency betting markets as they currently stand from a Labour perspective. Yesterday I looked at the Conservatives. Today it's the Lib Dems' turn.
So here's the table of all the seats where the Lib Dems' chances are ranked by the bookies as 16/1 or better, ranked in ascending order of implied probability:
To recap for first timers, this table is compiled on the basis that in aggregate the constituency odds are our best estimate of what's going on, while noting that there may be individual anomalies (otherwise known as betting opportunities). The constituency odds factor those matters in to the best judgement of bookies and punters. By arranging constituencies by order of odds rather than majority, we can see how many seats gamblers expect the parties to take - or what the odds are that each party will take a given number of seats.
These figures are up to date as at 31 October 2014. Following the two most recent Scottish opinion polls, many of the Scottish seats have no market, and for those I have used the prices in place before those markets were taken down on 30 October.
Despite having quite a few constituency polls since I last looked at this in June, the overarching picture for the Lib Dems is surprisingly static. They are longer than 5/6 in 24 constituencies that they currently hold, 5/6 being the price that the bookies use for a 50:50 shot (they have their margins to make). This is the same number as in June.
For those that want to review the detail, the June summary is here:
In the current national polling, the Lib Dems remain firmly nailed to the canvas. In the constituency polls conducted by Lord Ashcroft and others in seats that they are defending, they are doing rather better.
It is one of my longstanding views about political betting that no one ever really knows how the Lib Dems are going to do seat by seat, which is why so many of the seats where they are in contention have no clear favourite, as I noted here:
Punters are getting clearer in their minds about the longer shots among the individual constituencies that the Lib Dems might lose. In June, the Lib Dems were priced at odds of greater than 2/1 in ten of the constituencies that they hold. That is now up to 14. Despite the Lib Dems facing many more Conservative challengers than Labour challengers, the favourites in seven of these seats is Labour (with six having Conservative favourites and one having an SNP favourite). The betting public believe that the Lib Dems are in far worse shape against Labour than against the Conservatives. I agree with the betting public on this.
But punters are getting unsure whether some of the seats previously regarded as safe are in fact going to be held, as the number of seats where the Lib Dems are rated at shorter odds than 1/2 has fallen since June from 22 to 19.
The convulsions in Scottish politics are still feeding through into the constituency seat markets. This will not be good news for the Lib Dems, as the SNP will no doubt shorten in many of the constituencies that the Lib Dems hold. The Lib Dems are in any case far too short in many of these seats (I know I'm like a stuck record about this, but Focus leaflets and hard-working MPs aren't going to overcome a national two thirds drop in support in all that many constituencies). Incredibly, only two out of the 14 Lib Dem held seats where the incumbents are currently rated at worse than 2/1 are in Scotland (though only four Scottish Lib Dem seats have the Lib Dems shorter than 5/6). Expect that to change soon.
I'm spending all my time talking about the Lib Dem held seats. What of the seats where they are the challengers? Quite simply, I regard many of these prices as way too short. If voters in these seats weren't going to vote Lib Dem at the height of enthusiasm for Nick Clegg, why are they going to move to the Lib Dems in 2015 when they're as popular as acne? You need an exceptional answer to that question to make them a worthwhile bet in any constituency that they don't already hold. As I said in June, unless you have truly exceptional information (Watford is one seat that may be exceptional, though it's so murky I'm not venturing into that seat again), avoid all bets on the Lib Dems in their notional targets. As I said then, they look like an invitation from the bookies to commit larceny on yourself.
Anyway, Ladbrokes offer 10/11 on the Lib Dems tallying more or less than 26.5 seats. If you have faith in the aggregated constituency markets, you should bet on them beating this.
If you think the constituency markets remain too optimistic about the Lib Dems' chances, you have a tricky choice whether to go with the 10/11 with Ladbrokes that they will get less than 27 seats or the 5/6 with Paddy Power that they will get less than 29 seats (or to pick a seat where the Lib Dems are priced at shorter odds and bet against them, bearing in mind that Lib Dem performance between seats is only loosely correlated). I leave this conundrum to you, because I prefer to follow the detail of the constituency markets on this and back the "over" bet with Ladbrokes. But it's not a big bet for me, because like everyone else, I'm not really sure what's going on with the Lib Dems.
If you like seat bands, you can see from the above that the Lib Dems are deemed pretty likely to get 19 seats and not that likely to get more than 43. You can back both the 21-30 bands and the 31-40 bands with William Hill for a combined price of roughly 4/6. If you bear in mind that far more than for Labour and the Conservatives, Lib Dem performances in different seats are only loosely correlated, the practical chances of this must be closer to 80% if the constituency markets are reasonably right (that's a figure plucked out of my backside rather than mathematically calculated, but I'm comfortable with it).
What of individual seats? Generally, I'm cautious where the Lib Dems are heavily involved because of the general murk about how their local performance. Pay closer attention to individual constituency polls than usual, because they should pick up the performance of the local MP, which is going to be exceptionally important in Lib Dem held seats.
I'm already on the 1/3 on Nick Clegg holding Sheffield Hallam. This is a seat where the favourite is artificially long because of wishful thinking by his opponents (see also Morley & Outwood). With the rise of the Greens in Bristol West, Labour's task of overturning the Lib Dems' large majority looks too tough now, and I like the 8/13 on the Lib Dems there.
On the other side of the fence, it still remains hard to see the Lib Dems winning in Portsmouth South, given the complete mess with Mike Hancock (which the new Lib Dem candidate is also to some extent embroiled in). If you're cautious, back both the Conservatives and UKIP in appropriate proportions to get yourself a slightly better than evens bet on what looks like a 4/7 shot to me. If you're daring, back just the Conservatives at 5/2.
There's a small underround in Truro & Falmouth - you could back the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and UKIP for a guaranteed return in 6 months of 3%. Given Lord Ashcroft's constituency poll in June showed an 8% swing from the Lib Dems to the Conservatives, the 2/7 on the Conservatives looks very generous all by itself. I've backed only that.
Tomorrow I'll turn to UKIP.