Should You Bet on Bernie Sanders to Win the Iowa Caucus?

Iowa State Flag, Bernie Sanders
The 2020 election is still about 9 months away, but the official process will begin in earnest today. If you have been even casually following the presidential campaign to this point, you’ll have noticed that most of the candidates have been spending an awful lot of time in Iowa. That’s because the Iowa caucus, the first official competition in the campaign process, is set to go down on Monday night.

Whichever candidates wind up winning the Iowa caucus will have a leg up on the competition as the race heats up over the next few weeks. The New Hampshire primary will come next, followed by South Carolina and Nevada. 13 other states will cast their votes on Super Tuesday, which is slated for March 3. By then, we should have a pretty good idea as to which candidate will be atop the Democratic Party’s presidential ticket in the fall.

While the Democratic race is garnering most of the headlines, the Republican Party will also be represented in Iowa. Of course, there’s a lot less drama on that side, where Donald Trump is widely expected to cruise to an easy victory. He has a few official competitors, but there’s essentially a zero percent chance the incumbent president does not come away with all of Iowa’s delegates at the end of the night.

While land-based sportsbooks in the US are legally prohibited from offering bets on American politics, there are no such restrictions on foreign or offshore betting sites.

We have already seen numerous shifts in the odds over the past few months, with the campaign having ramped up in intensity.

The Iowa caucus will give us the first glimpse into how the Democratic primary process may ultimately pan out. BetOnline is one of the aforementioned betting sites that has been keeping tabs on the race to this point. Former vice president Joe Biden has been among the odds-on favorites to secure the nomination since he entered the race last April, but he has since seen his odds decline.

A number of other candidates that were expected to be major players have already withdrawn from the race before the first vote has even been cast. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro are some of the candidates that didn’t wind up garnering enough support to even make it all the way to the Iowa caucus.

Here is how BetOnline has the field set when it comes to the Democratic nomination for president:

Candidate Odds to Win Democratic Nomination
Bernie Sanders +140
Joe Biden +200
Michael Bloomberg +600
Elizabeth Warren +1000
Pete Buttigieg +1000
Andrew Yang +1400
Amy Klobuchar +5000
Hillary Clinton +5000
Tom Steyer +8000
Deval Patrick +8000
Tulsi Gabbard +8000
Michelle Obama +8000

Senator Bernie Sanders, who became a very prominent figure in the Democratic Party after his surprisingly effective challenge to Hillary Clinton back in 2016, has been rising in the polls in recent months.

The 78-year-old is gunning for the Oval Office in 2020 with the same message he was preaching 4 years ago when he nearly upset Clinton to win the nomination. Bernie’s hyper-progressive and big campaign proposals have once again resonated with prospective voters, particularly young voters.

Sanders’ rise has resulted in Biden’s fall. Biden’s campaign has not taken off the way many believed it would, and he’s certainly not being helped by the fact that he has still not gotten an endorsement from President Barack Obama.

An Obama endorsement would go a long way toward helping Biden reclaim some momentum in the race, but so far that endorsement hasn’t come. That could change at some point, but the 44th president has remained coy about where he will ultimately lend his support in the race. Obama campaigned hard on behalf of Clinton last time around, but he is reportedly against the idea of Sanders representing the party on the ticket later this year.

Long Shots

The Democratic field is a crowded one, and it’s safe to assume that some of these people will drop out of the race after Iowa votes on Monday. Candidates like Tulsi Gabbard (+8000 to win the nomination), Deval Patrick (+8000) and Tom Steyer (+8000) seem to be hanging by a thread. None of these 3 are even close to viable betting options to win the nomination.

There are 2 people listed above that aren’t even in the race. Hillary Clinton (+5000) and Michelle Obama (+8000) are both among those listed with odds, yet neither has indicated much of a desire to join the fray. Clinton has certainly been outspoken against a Sanders nomination, but she has (thus far) resisted any potential temptation to mount another charge for the White House.

Hilary Clinton, Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama is among the most popular figures in the Democratic Party, but she, too, has passed on the idea of running for POTUS. Obama could potentially cruise to the nomination if she did randomly decide to jump into the race, but it’s likely too late for such a move.

The only halfway-viable betting option among the candidates listed with odds of +5000 or worse to win the nomination is Amy Klobuchar. The Senator from Minnesota shared the New York Times’ endorsement with Elizabeth Warren, and she has gained a little momentum in recent weeks. Klobuchar is certainly still what you’d call a long shot, but a low-dollar flier on her at the +5000 odds isn’t the worst idea.

Klobuchar is a moderate, which is something that appeals to plenty of voters. At the very least, she is a potentially viable alternative to someone like Biden.

Who Will Win the Iowa Caucus?

Firing the first salvo in the race is certainly important from a morale perspective. Whichever candidate winds up claiming Iowa’s delegates will have a head start, but winning Iowa certainly doesn’t guarantee a path to the nomination. Look no further than 2016, when Ted Cruz beat Trump to win the Iowa caucus. Or, perhaps you’ll remember that Rick Santorum somehow beat Mitt Romney in Iowa back in 2012. Needless to say, neither Cruz nor Santorum went on to win their party’s primaries in those years.

Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg was listed as the odds-on favorite to win the Iowa caucus a little more than a month ago. Once Mayor Pete started to surge in the polls, though, other candidates started to go on the offensive against Buttigieg in very public ways. Warren, for example, lambasted Buttigieg at a recent debate for accepting big-money donations from corporate interests.

Buttigieg has fallen back into the pack almost as quickly as he rose to the top of it. He now has the fourth-best odds to win the Iowa caucus after being a minus-money favorite in early December. The updated odds from BetOnline are as follows:

Candidate Odds to Win Iowa Caucus
Bernie Sanders -275
Joe Biden +275
Elizabeth Warren +1000
Pete Buttigieg +1000
Andrew Yang +2200
Amy Klobuchar +3300
Tom Steyer +10000
Tulsi Gabbard +10000

Complicated Process

The Iowa caucus is unique in that Iowans don’t simply show up and vote for their preferred candidate. Instead, the state’s citizens will gather at local centers and essentially hang out with groups of people backing specific candidates.

Candidates must generate at least 15 percent of the vote in order to achieve viability. If a candidate doesn’t reach that threshold, caucusers are allowed to join other groups featuring viable candidates. Or, they can leave. There is nothing forcing people to support a candidate if their initial choice fails.

This process makes Iowa generally less predictable than other states that simply decide who wins based on the total number of votes.

However, you can glean some insight from polling numbers. There are plenty of polls out there that take down a voter’s first and second choices.

Candidates like Sanders or Warren, who are more left-leaning than the rest of the field, are not particularly popular second-choice options for voters whose preferred candidate is a moderate like Biden, Klobuchar or Buttigieg. However, Sanders and Warren are popular second-choice options whose first choice is the other.

Candidates like Buttigieg or Klobuchar figure to fare decently well as second-choice options for some, which keeps both of them somewhat relevant in the race to win the caucus.

Sanders is a minus-money favorite for a reason, though. He has consistently generated the most favorable poll numbers of any candidate in the field in recent weeks, and his rise has caused optimism around Biden and Warren to wane. Sanders has picked up a number of high-profile endorsements along the way, which can’t necessarily be said about some of the other candidates.

As of now, Bernie looks like the safest option to come away with Iowa’s delegates. Unfortunately, there isn’t much profit potential in the latest -275 odds. I think Biden is a fine alternative from a betting perspective at +275, while Warren offers the best value of any candidate in the field at +1000 to win Iowa. The prospects for both candidates aren’t great, but betting on Sanders at -275 offers limited return, as well.

Bet on Bernie?

Sanders seems to be the most popular candidate in the field, and it remains to be seen how the party’s establishment will handle his potential nomination. There has already been talk of a potential contested convention later this year if the party’s brass is not willing to embrace a Sanders nomination.

Pile of Money, Bernie Sanders Giving Speech

Figures like Clinton and Obama may try to get involved. Whether either will be able to affect change is unknown. If Sanders dominates the primary cycle, how can the party reasonably take away his claim to the top of the ticket? If Sanders wins Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada before Super Tuesday, he has a legitimate gripe if the powers that be try to thwart his nomination.

One potential wild card is former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg was a late entrant in the race, and he isn’t even on the ballot in Iowa. Instead, Bloomberg is pumping millions of dollars into his campaign with the strategy of trying to make headway on Super Tuesday while passing on the early states.

As a result of all of the different factors in play, betting on Bernie to win Iowa is a lot safer than betting on him to win the nomination as things stand today.

While I ultimately think the Democratic Party will be smart enough to avoid potentially torpedoing their own nominee by trying to strip his nomination, it’s also risky depending on the Democrats to do the right thing.

Biden (+200), Bloomberg (+600) and Warren (+1000) are the best alternatives against a favored Sanders to win the nomination. I think Warren may be the best value here. She seems to be able to bridge the gap between far-left Sanders supporters and middle-of-the-road voters that may feel more comfortable with someone like Biden.

Sanders is the clear top option if you’re betting on the Iowa caucus. If I were betting on the nominee, I’d take a shot on Warren at the current +1000 odds. Bernie is the “safe” choice at +140, while I’d take Bloomberg’s odds (+600) before betting on the lesser value in Biden (+200).