There’s no single person who can predict the future. When people put their heads together, however, they can sometimes reach a consensus on a reasonable probability that something will happen. And one recent consensus on the federal air travel mask mandate? It’ll be gone before November 8, 2022.
This is according to the online betting market Polymarket. The market currently sits at a 74 percent chance that a mask mandate for domestic flights (for all passengers, not just unvaccinated ones) won’t make it to the November midterm elections — a deadline more clearly rooted in politics than anything else.
While bettors can’t be used like some all-knowing crystal ball, there is some backing to trust their judgment. Gary Leff of the industry air travel site View from the Wing writes that he trusts prediction markets more than expert commentary because people are putting money behind their predictions rather than just making a statement. (The New York Times, however, quoted Leff’s analysis with the caveat that the mask mandate “has been extended before and could be extended again.”)
Polymarket is what’s called an information market, where people can buy and sell shares on the predicted outcome of an event. The prices fluctuate depending on whether people are buying “yes” or “no” shares. The price is reflected as $0.00 to $1, so it’s a simple conversion to a percent probability that the traders on Polymarket give a certain outcome ($0.74, for example, equates to a 74 percent probability).
People can buy and sell their shares like on a stock exchange. At the end date, people who put their money behind the correctly outcome are paid $1 for every correct share.
This particular mask market all started with a tweet from Nate Silver, founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight. On December 31 at 7:59 AM, Silver tweeted: “A fun question for prediction markets might be: will there be a federal mask requirement in place on domestic flights as of Nov. 8, 2022? (i.e. Election Day.) I think I’d make ‘No’ about the 3:2 favorite, but wouldn’t put a lot of money on it.”
When you follow the trend lines on the market through January after it was posted on Polymarket, the prediction was a lot closer to 50-50 for much of the month. Things started to change in February as it became clear that the massive wave of infections from the omicron variant was on the decline.
As anyone who has looked at the news at any point in the last two years knows, a lot can change from the start of the year to the end. Still, if the prediction markets are correct (and studies show they are more often than not), masks on planes could be a thing of the past before the end of 2022.