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Watching the Democratic Races

The political aficionados in Freakonomics Nation are probably doing the same thing that I’m doing right now — continually reloading the major news pages, in the hopes of finding some useful information. There won’t be any hard data for a few hours yet, and even then, it looks like there may be a long night of vote-counting ahead of us.

It is likely that there will be enough good news for both campaigns to claim some measure of victory from tonight’s count. (And even if Obama doesn’t do well at the polls, he is likely to announce that his February fundraising totals exceeded Clinton’s totals.) How, then, should we assess these competing claims? Regular readers of this blog won’t be surprised to hear that I will be following the race on the political prediction markets at Put simply, I’m willing to declare the winner as being whichever candidate sees his or her market-assessed chances of garnering the nomination rise.

Here are some useful baselines:

1) Clinton is expected to win in Ohio (right now she’s rated an 80 percent chance)

2) Obama is the slight favorite in Texas (a 57 percent chance to win the primary; probably more likely to win the caucus). Interestingly, Clinton has been sneaking ahead in the latest polls.

3) Vermont and Rhode Island look to be sure things – for Obama and Clinton, respectively.

Were I a betting man (!), I would suggest that Vermont and Rhode Island are even stronger “sure things” than the latest odds suggest. You aren’t going to earn a lot of money betting on strong favorites, but it sure beats losing. And Andrew Leigh, Eric Zitzewitz, and I have some research (in progress) suggesting that it may have been a winning strategy over just about all previous elections, too.

I expand on some of these themes in my latest Wall Street Journal column, or to hear an NPR interview taped yesterday, click here.