To some, it might seem almost sacrilegious to make money by punting on the outcome of an award that is given to those who “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
However, each award winner also receives more than £850,000 – so why shouldn’t bettors make a few pounds of their own on Nobel Peace Prize betting?
Most people are aware that the Nobel Prizes were endowed by Swedish engineer and manufacturer Alfred Nobel, best known for his invention of dynamite. It’s also common knowledge that Nobel left most of his estate to fund the Prizes (for physical science, chemistry, literature, and medicine in addition to peace – an economics prize was added in 1968) in an effort to be remembered in a positive light, rather than just as a “merchant of death” as some newspaper articles called him.
What’s not as well-known is that his decision to establish a peace prize was largely based on a lengthy correspondence with his one-time secretary (and short-time lover) Bertha von Suttner, who actually received the 1905 Nobel Peace Prize “for her sincere peace activities.”
The Prizes have been awarded since 1901. You can often find markets on winners in categories like literature, but most punts are placed on the Peace Prize winner. Selections have been either unexpected or controversial in most years, making predictions rather difficult for bettors.
Nobel Geographical Bias Over The Years
Over the last few decades, the Prize has largely become an award for third world activists and Western politicians, making it almost impossible to predict where a winner will come from.
There have been ten Brits (and two British organizations, the Friends Service Council and Amnesty International) honored with the Nobel, but only four in the last 50 years and only two since 1977. The last was David Trimble in 1998 (when he was the co-recipient with John Hume for their work to find a peaceful solution to the Northern Ireland situation). Hume was one of only three Irish winners; Mairead Corrigan and Sean MacBride were honored in the 1970s.
The story’s brighter for Americans, but not by much. They’ve had 22 Peace Prizes overall, but only six winners since 1977. Three US men have been laureates in this century, and they’ve all been politicians: former President Jimmy Carter, former Vice-President Al Gore, and President Barack Obama (who won just after his election and before he’d had an opportunity to have a tangibly effect on world peace).
In early years, Europeans and North Americans were most likely to receive the Nobel Peace Prize but the “balance of power” has shifted dramatically over time. They won 89% of the awards between 1901 and 1925, 77% from 1926 to 1950, 67% between 1951 and 1975, 48% from 1976 to 2000, and 45% between 2000 and 2014. Meanwhile, recipients from Africa, Latin America and Asia have grown from 3% between 1901 and 1925 to 55% from 2000-2014. That doesn’t help punters trying to narrow the field in any particular year, though – in the 21st century, the Prize has gone to people or organizations from Asia and Africa five times each, Europe four times, and the US and the United Nations three times apiece.
Voting Trends To Watch – And To Avoid
It’s rare in the overall history of the Nobel Peace Prize for a woman to be the laureate. Only 15 females have been presented with the award, and three of them (Tawakkul Karman, Leymah Gbowee and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf) were co-winners in 2011. However, a total of five women have won the Prize in the 21st century, so the trend may slowly be changing. Only one British woman has ever been honored (Betty Williams, co-recipient with Corrigan in 1976 for founding the Northern Ireland Peace Movement), and no American minority females have won the Prize. Additionally, no openly gay recipient has ever been named.
Some believe that religious leaders have an edge in Nobel Peace voting, but that hasn’t been the case recently. The last clergy to win the award were Roman Catholic Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo of East Timor in 1996, the Dalai Lama in 1989, Bishop Desmond Tutu in 1984 and Mother Teresa in 1979, and all but Mother Theresa were honored for their efforts to liberate their home nations rather than overall religious works. It was widely expected that enormously popular Pope John Paul II would be selected as a Nobel laureate but that hasn’t happened, quite possibly because his credentials would be for a “body of work” rather than a specific liberation movement. One might say that a religious choice is “overdue,” but it would be dangerous to expect it to occur in any given year.
A politician hasn’t won the Prize since Obama in 2009 (unless you count the European Union as a “politician”), but four have received the honor in the 21st century and thirteen were chosen between 1975 and 2000. Again, the vast majority were selected for their work in working toward the end of oppressive regimes or ending long-standing conflicts, rather than for their actual performance in office.
What does stand out is the number of activist leaders and groups in the list of winners between 2000 and 2013, particularly in the areas of human, women’s and children’s rights. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded for efforts to eliminate chemical weapons in 2013, for advancing human rights in Europe in 2012, for non-violent campaigns on behalf of women’s rights in 2011, for attempts to guarantee Chinese human rights in 2010, for a world leader’s (Obama’s) view of a world without nuclear weapons in 2009, for climate change education in 2007 – the list goes on and on. Some might characterize the selections as part of a “liberal agenda” – but whatever you call them, they point to a clear path for punters who want to narrow down the market before placing a bet.
It’s nearly impossible to put together a list of “favorites” for each year’s Prize, since many of the potential winners toil in relative anonymity, particularly the ones in Asian or African nations working in rights movements. However, bookmakers manage to make a market relatively early in the year, and some of the trends we’ve noted figure prominently in their picks.
The early favorite for 2014 was Dr. Denis Mukwege of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who focuses on treatment for women who have been gang-raped by rebels. He was listed at 4/1. Activist Malafa Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who survived an Taliban assassination attempt and was one of the previous year’s favorites, was listed at 8/1, as was US Professor Gene Sharp, who heads an institute specializing in the study of nonviolent protest. The only “outlier” with odds of less than 10/1 was Pope Francis, possibly because of the belief by many that a “religious figure is due.” There are always a few political longshots worth attention as well, such as Bill Clinton who is on the list annually and went off at 20/1 in 2014.
Politicians and clergy may win the award from time to time, but the best advice for anyone who wants to take a chance on Nobel Peace Prize betting is to look toward activists or organizations who focus on human rights causes which have been in the news during the previous year. And then guarantee a profit by hedging those bets as the prize ceremony nears, because predicting the actual winner is usually close to impossible.