Trump vs. Biden
Many Americans head to the polls today to cast ballots for the 2020 general election, bringing an end to more than a year and a half of campaigning.
Democratic nominee Joe Biden has steadily maintained a wide lead nationally, but polling suggests President Trump has a realistic — albeit fairly narrow — path to an Electoral College victory. Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes) and Florida (29) are effectively must-win states for Trump, with the likeliest path then involving wins in North Carolina (15) and Georgia (16). Biden enters with around a three-point lead in Pennsylvania (see data); the other three states are statistical toss-ups, as is Arizona. Candidates need 270 votes to win; calculate your own Electoral College map here.
Trump beat state-level polling in battleground states by about three points in 2016 — a normal margin of error — and some argue current polls likewise undercount the rural white vote and miss hidden Trump voters. Others point out differences between 2016 and 2020, notably that just 3% of voters are undecided now, compared to more than 10% at this point four years ago.
Similarly, the two biggest third-party candidates — Jo Jorgensen (Libertarian) and Howie Hawkins (Green Party) — are expected to have a smaller impact than in 2016. Last cycle more than 4% of voters backed third-party candidates, roughly 6 million votes. Overall, analysts say a Trump win would likely require greater polling errors than seen during the last presidential cycle.
Voter turnout is on track to be historically large. More than 136 million people voted in 2016 and more than 99 million have already voted this year. The 2020 cycle is by far the most expensive in history, nearing $14B across all races.
There’s a good chance we won’t know who won by tonight, or even tomorrow. Almost half of US states accept mail-in ballots that arrive late (deadlines vary), while many states — notably Pennsylvania — won’t start counting the tremendous number of early ballots until polls close tonight (see breakdown).
The president, who has argued the result should be known the night of Nov. 3, denied reports he plans to declare premature victory if early returns come in his favor. Such an attempt would preempt the dayslong process of counting mail ballots, which are expected to tilt heavily toward Democrats in states like Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
Expect early results to start rolling in when the first polls close, around 7pm ET.
Senate Majority Up for Grabs
Republicans enter the day looking to defend their control of the Senate, which they’ve enjoyed since the 2014 election. Republicans hold 53 seats; majority control of the chamber would flip if Democrats pick up three seats and Joe Biden wins, or four seats if President Trump wins (the vice president acts a tiebreaker).
On paper, Democrats have a numbers advantage. There are 35 seats up for grabs — Republicans must defend 23, while Democrats have just 12 to protect. Of the 23 Republican seats, nine are listed as either leaning Democrat or toss-ups. The most vulnerable Republicans are Martha McSally (R-AZ), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Thom Tillis (R-NC).
Just one Democratic-held seat is listed as leaning Republican — Doug Jones (D) of Alabama — with no toss-ups. Michigan’s Gary Peters (D), generally viewed as the next most vulnerable Democrat, enters with a five-point lead.
See a full breakdown here. FiveThirtyEight’s modeling projects a 75% chance of control changing hands. Finally, both of Georgia’s races appear likely to head to a Jan. 5 runoff, meaning — just like the top of the ticket — who wins control of the chamber may not be known by the end of the night.
Over in the House, Democrats are forecast to retain their 232–199 majority, while possibly picking up a few additional seats. See the most competitive races here.
State Races and Ballot Measures
Beyond federal elections, a number of state races and ballot initiatives with potentially wide-ranging impact will be decided today. At the gubernatorial level — typically decided during midterm elections — 11 races will be decided, with the only competitive seat being Montana, where term-limited Gov. Steve Bullock (D) is running for Senate; Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte, the state’s lone congressman, enters the day with a slight edge over Lieutenant Governor Mike Cooney (D).
More notably, each party is defending eight vulnerable trifectas — states where one party holds the governorship and both legislative chambers (see map). Across the country, 36 of 50 states enjoy such control; among criticisms, some argue trifectas give one party too much power over gerrymandering, which further cements their control.
Beyond elected office, voters in California will decide the high-profile battle over Prop 22, determining whether gig economy giants like Uber and Lyft must treat workers as employees instead of contractors. Separately, Massachusetts and Alaska both have proposals that would implement some form of ranked-choice voting — an approach some believe may help depolarize the political environment and loosen the grip of the traditional two-party power structure. See a list of other top ballot measures here.
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