Could Putin need two rounds to win the Russian presidency? Not likely.

The SignalMarch 3, 2012

Russians will go to the polls on Sunday to elect their next President, and as over 30,000 web pages note verbatim, Vladimir Putin is "expected to win." But just how certain is "expected" in the often-shady world of Russian politics?

We're no Kremlinologists, but we can find a reliable gauge of Putin's likelihood of winning in the stinginess bookmakers in doling out winnings if that happens. Oddsmakers William Hill, Ladbrokes, and StanJames are each offering only \$101 back for every \$100 their customers risk on Putin. That puts the odds of a Putin victory at something just below 99 percent.

While Putin's return to the Presidency seems a foregone conclusion, some observers--including Putin himself--wonder whether he can surpass the 50 percent threshold he needs to avoid a second-round runoff election. We can use the same follow-the-money strategy to estimate the likelihood that Putin's opposition will force a second round.

On this question, the bookmakers disagree somewhat. StanJames is paying \$114 for every \$100 bet on Putin winning outright in the first round, while William Hill is paying only \$105. For our analysis, we'll use the highest-paying bookmaker, in this case StanJames. Why? All bookmakers pay less than the fair price dictated by the true odds; we're just looking for the one that understates the odds the least. Finishing our computation, a \$114-for-\$100 payoff rate translates to a likelihood of about 88 percent that Putin obtains a majority of votes Sunday and wins the presidency outright.

We can go one step further and estimate how likely Putin is garner over 80 percent of the vote in an overwhelming landslide, or conversely suffer the unthinkable and muster less than 40 percent support among his comrades. Both of those outcomes are highly improbable: less than 5 percent. Instead, Putin is 73 percent likely to earn between 50 and 70 percent of votes, a result in line with the latest polls. The table shows how likely we rate all the various possibilities after finding the best bookmaker price, then reformulating things a bit so that all the possibilities add up to 100 percent.

 Putin's vote share Likelihood Under 39.9% 2.9% 40-49.9% 8.7% 50-59.9% 39.0% 60-69.9% 33.3% 70-79.9% 11.6% Over 80% 4.6%