Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at the University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.
With six days left until next Wednesday’s AEDT election, the FiveThirtyEight national aggregate gives Joe Biden an 8.9% lead over Donald Trump (51.8% to 42.9%). Biden’s lead has decreased by 1.0% since last week. In the key states, Biden leads by 8.5% in Wisconsin, 8.1% in Michigan, 5.2% in Pennsylvania, 3.5% in Arizona and just 1.5% in Florida.
Pennsylvania is currently clearly the “tipping-point” state that could potentially give either Biden or Trump the 270 Electoral Votes required to win the Electoral College. If Biden is only up by five in Pennsylvania while leading by nine nationally, the popular vote/Electoral College gap is nearly four points in Trump’s favour, the same as last week.
If Biden loses Pennsylvania, but wins Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona, he would have 269 Electoral Votes, one short of the magic 270. Either Maine’s or Nebraska’s second Congressional District could in that scenario give Biden the narrowest of Electoral College wins.
In FiveThirtyEight’s aggregates, Biden also leads by 2.1% in North Carolina, 1.8% in Iowa and 1.5% in Georgia. He trails by 1.7% in Ohio and 1.8% in Texas. As I have said previously, if Biden wins all these states, he wins over 400 of the 538 Electoral Votes. The move to Trump in Florida puts it in with these states when it had previously been better for Biden.
The FiveThirtyEight forecast gives Trump an 11% chance to win the Electoral College, down 2% since last week. He only has a 3% chance to win the popular vote. The slight tightening nationally and in Pennsylvania is more than offset by time running out for Trump. Trump is likely to need a much bigger polling error than in 2016.
Trump’s net job approval ratings have improved over one point since last week after dropping the previous week. In the FiveThirtyEight aggregate, his net approval with all polls is -10.3%, and -9.4% with polls of likely or registered voters. The RealClearPolitics average has Biden’s net favourability at +6, while Trump’s is -13.
In the FiveThirtyEight Classic Senate forecast, Democrats now have a 79% chance to win control, up 1% since last week. The most likely outcome is a 52-48 Democratic majority. Unchanged on last week’s projection. The 80% confidence range is 48 to 56 Democratic seats, also unchanged.
With the US hitting a new record of over 80,000 coronavirus cases Wednesday, coronavirus is likely to dominate the headlines in the lead-up to the election. That is unlikely to help Trump.
Poll closing times
All times given here are next Wednesday Australian Eastern Daylight Time. Polls have suggested the early vote will be strongly pro-Biden, but the election day vote will be strongly pro-Trump. Early leads in a given state are likely to depend on whether that state counts election day or early votes first. Poll closing times are from The Green Papers.
Some states span two time zones, with voting finishing an hour later in the trailing zone. US media will not call states until all polls in that state are closed. The most important early state is Florida: if Biden wins, he’s almost assured of victory, but a Trump win means we could be waiting for mail votes from Pennsylvania and Michigan, possibly for days.
10am. The first polls close in the eastern time zones of Indiana and Kentucky, both expected to be easy Trump wins.
11am. Polls close in Georgia and most of Florida. In Florida, early votes will be released soon after polls close and election day votes are counted relatively quickly. Here’s the catch: polls in most of Florida close at 11am, but there’s a very right-wing part called the Panhandle. The Panhandle is in a different time zone, and closes one hour after the rest of Florida. In 2016 and 2018, the Panhandle caused agony for hopeful Democrats.
11:30am. Polls close in North Carolina and Ohia. I believe early votes will be counted first in both states.
12 noon. Polls close in Pennsylvania and most of Michigan and Texas (small parts of Michigan and Texas close at 1pm). I believe election day votes will be counted first in Pennsylvania and Michigan, while early votes are counted first in Texas.
1pm. Polls close in Wisconsin and Arizona. In Arizona, a large share of the overall vote will be mail, and that should be out for most of Arizona within an hour of polls closing. Mail received after election day can be accepted.
2pm. Polls close in Iowa, where I believe early votes will be counted quickly.
3pm. Polls close in California, Oregon and Washington. These are all Democratic strongholds that should be called immediately for Biden. If he’s already gained enough Trump 2016 states, this could be when he is declared president-elect.
5pm. The final polls close in Alaska’s western time zone.