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As Trump’s Impeachment Odds Double, Betting Spikes Around the World

September 25, 2019, 6:02 PM UTC

The odds that Donald Trump will leave office before the end of his first term nearly doubled Wednesday. That’s according to data compiled on wagers on the fate of the beleaguered president placed by bettors from around the globe in the past 24 hours.

The spike comes in the wake of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s dramatic announcement on Tuesday that the House of Representatives would open a formal impeachment inquiry against the president.

Overseas opinion polls of Trump have never amounted to Tweet-worthy material on the president’s Twitter feed. As was the case with other U.S. presidents, Trump’s popularity abroad has been lower than the ratings he gets in the U.S., particularly in Western Europe. Pelosi’s announcement was front-page news in dozens of newspapers across the globe, including in Germany’s Handelsblatt and France’s Le Monde.

Despite that, the overall odds are still in Trump’s favor.

The betting market information site Odds Watch says there is around a 20 percent chance Trump will fail to finish his first term, whether because of impeachment, resignation, or anything else. But as the site’s founder Brendon Ferris told Fortune, one chance in five is around the same odds the site gave for a Trump victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016, or for the Brexit campaign to win a few months before that.

Related: What the latest polling tells us about public support for impeachment

Odds Watch and sites like it base their projections on money laid down by regular people from around the world on a host of betting sites rather than on opinion polls or on the views of pundits or insiders.

“The site is my effort to help make some sense out of chaotic world,” said Ferris, 41, a self-proclaimed “digital nomad” who was born in Australia and who lives on Bali. “I look at it as a scientific way to get to the truth, measuring the opinions of people who have strong enough opinions on a subject to put money on it.”

The idea isn’t as strange as it sounds.

The term “The Wisdom of Crowds” was coined 15 years ago by author James Surowiecki. In his book with that title, Surowiecki tells the story of the English polymath Sir Francis Galton, a half-cousin of Charles Darwin who collected data from the 1906 West of England Fat Stock and Poultry Exhibition. At the exhibition, passersby—whether butchers, farmers, clerks, or curious onlookers—were challenged to guess the weight of a steer. Though many of the individual guesses where off by hundreds of pounds, Galton’s research showed the average of the 787 guesses was off by a mere single pound.

Similar methods have been used to get amazingly close to the number of jellybeans in a glass jar or the number of tennis balls loaded into a Volkswagen Beetle.

The U.S. Department of Defense even toyed with the idea of setting up what was to be called a Policy Analysis Market to use bettors to gain insight into geopolitical events like the likelihood of a terrorist attack in the United States; the idea was eventually abandoned.

The wisdom-of-crowds theory is based on the notion that the collective intelligence of a group will be reliably more effective at solving problems, making sage decisions, sparking innovation, or even predicting the future than even the wisest individual in that group.

“The wisdom of the crowds is at work in the world in many different guises,” Surowiecki wrote. “It’s the reason Google can scan billions of web pages and find the one page that has the exact piece of information you were looking for. It’s the reason it’s so hard to make money betting on NFL games.”

What does it all mean for Trump? Ferris said it’s far too early to tell. But monitoring the wisdom of the crowds is a way to have a finger in the air to determine which way the political winds are blowing.

More must-read stories from Fortune:

What is CrowdStrike? Trump mentioned the company in his Ukraine call
—Impeachment poll: Trump-Ukraine call has done little to sway public opinion
—These are the key players in the Trump impeachment inquiry
—How impeachment momentum massively shifted among democrats
—The 25 most powerful women in politics
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