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Democrats Don’t Need To Win Georgia, Iowa, Ohio Or Texas — But They Could

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Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll(s) of the week

Just eight years ago, it would have been weird to put Iowa and Ohio in the same electoral category as Georgia and Texas. In the 2012 election, President Obama won Iowa by 6 percentage points and Ohio by 3 points while losing Georgia by 8 and Texas by 16.

But in the early stages of the Trump era, Georgia and Texas got a bit more blue, while Iowa and Ohio got more red. (Exactly why these shifts happened at the same time is complicated, so let’s leave that aside for the moment.) In 2016 and 2018, these four states voted similarly — about 11 points, give or take, to the right of the country overall. That gave Trump fairly comfortable wins in all four states in 2016 — when Hillary Clinton won the national popular vote by just 2 points — but Republicans barely won in several key statewide races in these four states in 2018, when Democrats won the national U.S. House vote by about 9 points.

Fast-forward to 2020, which is looking about as blue as 2018 — and perhaps even more so — and all four states look competitive. You can see that in the latest polls. Morning Consult surveys released this week showed President Trump with just a 2-point lead in Georgia and Texas, and a 3-point lead in Ohio. A CBS News/YouGov poll had Biden and Trump tied in Iowa. Those are just a few polls, obviously, but they largely match the FiveThirtyEight polling averages in each of these states.

Biden doesn’t need to carry these states — he can win a comfortable Electoral College victory without carrying them. Trump does need them, however — but he also needs bluer states like Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to win reelection. Similarly, Democrats can win a Senate majority without carrying any of the four Senate seats up for grabs in these states (none in Ohio but two in Georgia).

But these states are still important. Winning the Senate races there would likely mean that Democrats have 53 or 54 seats overall, giving them room for defections on key votes. A strong performance from Biden in Texas, meanwhile, could help down-ballot Democrats there, as the party could flip several U.S. House seats and the Texas House of Representatives. Symbolically, winning Georgia and particularly Texas would suggest that Democrats have really arrived in the South after years of talk about their potential strength in that region. And winning Iowa and particularly Ohio would suggest that Democrats’ decline in the Midwest have been overstated.

So let’s look at these four states more closely. (I have generally ordered them from Democrats’ best chances to their worst.)

Iowa

Democratic candidate Theresa Greenfield has a 53 in 100 chance of winning, according to FiveThirtyEight’s Senate forecast for Iowa; Biden has a 42 in 100 chance of winning, per our presidential forecast.1

Even with the national swift toward the Democrats, Greenfield’s strong standing has been a bit surprising. Incumbent Sen. Joni Ernst, as both a Republican woman and former Army reservist, was a compelling candidate when she ran for the Senate in 2014 and seemed like a rising star in the GOP after she won by 8 points in a state Obama had carried two years earlier. She has probably been more aligned with Trump than a senator from a swing state should be for electoral reasons, but she hasn’t made any major gaffes or had any big scandals in her Senate tenure. And Greenfield, who runs a real estate firm in Des Moines, doesn’t particularly have a unique biography, and she has never been elected to any office before.

Part of the story here is likely that people in politics like me assumed that Ernst was a strong candidate because her 2014 margin looked really big at the time, but that margin was really about Iowa shifting to the right more than Ernst herself. (Trump won big there in 2016.) So Ernst is struggling now because Iowa has moved back left and she doesn’t have much popularity separate from the broader GOP.

Our model has Biden doing slightly worse than Greenfield — or put another way, Trump is doing better than Ernst. That might just be random polling effects, and the presidential and Senate results could end up lining up fairly closely. But there is an obvious explanation for this dynamic: Democrats are spending a lot of money in Iowa to try to win the Senate race, but not much in terms of the presidential race. Biden and various organizations backing his campaign have spent just $3.3 million on TV commercials in Iowa to boost him, according to a recent NPR analysis. That compares with $154.1 million in Florida, the state where they are spending the most. But Democratic-aligned groups have spent more than $56 million in the Ernst-Greenfield race, more than all but one other Senate campaign (North Carolina). This makes sense. Winning a Democratic Senate seat in Iowa is just as valuable as winning one in Texas. But for Biden, Iowa is far less valuable — it has only six electoral votes.

Ohio

Biden has a 49 in 100 chance, according to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast.2

Biden’s chances in Iowa and Ohio are fairly similar, reflecting the national dynamics we explained above. But here’s one factor to watch in the next few weeks: It’s likely that Biden and Democratic groups backing his campaign will invest more heavily in trying to win Ohio than to win Georgia, Iowa or Texas (at the presidential level). Ohio has way more electoral votes (18) than Iowa. And Ohio is fairly demographically and culturally similar to states like Michigan and Pennsylvania that Biden has been targeting for months.according to “States of Change,” a 2019 report on the demographics of the U.S. electorate, which was a joint project of the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Brookings Institution, the Center for American Progress and the Democracy Fund.

“>3 So Biden doesn’t need to adapt his approach to win in those states, while Georgia and Texas are much different politically from the Midwestern states.

In fact, Biden was in Ohio this week, but his campaign seems hesitant to send him to Texas.visited Texas this week, and Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, had a trip planned to the state until one of her campaign staffers tested positive for COVID-19. But the main candidate’s time is considered a precious resource in political campaigns. So if Biden himself never sets foot in Texas before Election Day, you can assume he and his team don’t consider Texas particularly important to their strategy for winning.

“>4

Georgia

Biden has a 50 in 100 chance, according to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast; Democrats have a 49 in 100 chance of winning Georgia’s special Senate election, with Raphael Warnock as their likely candidate, and Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff has a 28 in 100 chance in the state’s other U.S. Senate race.5

Biden may have a better chance than Democrats at the Senate level largely because of Georgia election law. At the presidential level, the winner of the plurality of the vote gets the state’s 16 electoral votes. But for the Senate (and other races in Georgia), you can win only if you get 50 percent of the vote or more. So it’s possible that both of Georgia’s U.S. Senate races will go to a runoff, which would take place on Jan. 5. Based on current polling, Democrats may have won the House, the presidency and the Senate by that date. I would expect Republicans to try really really hard to win one or both of these Senate races in such a runoff, and this is already a GOP-leaning state in the first place.

But the rules aren’t the only reason to be skeptical of Democrats’ chances of winning in Georgia, particularly at the Senate level. Candidate strength is another. Stacey Abrams’s decision not to run for either of these Senate seats made sense for her (Abrams said she didn’t want to be a senator) but was problematic for Democrats in Georgia. In the race against incumbent Sen. David Perdue, Ossoff won the Democratic primary in a crowded field. Ossoff, a one-time staffer to Georgia congressman Hank Johnson, is perhaps most famous for his 2017 U.S. House campaign in suburban Atlanta that got a lot of national attention because it was one of the first congressional races after Trump’s election. But Ossoff lost that race and has never won or held political office before.

Similarly, in the race for the seat held by Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, the Democratic Party establishment has coalesced around Warnock, who has never even run for office before. Of course, it makes sense why Democrats have boosted Warnock despite his lack of electoral experience. He is the kind of person the Democratic Party would like to elect to the Senate to represent Georgia — a Black man who serves as the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist in Atlanta, the church Martin Luther King Jr. once led.

But Democrats have a chance in these races because of the blue-leaning national environment but also because the GOP candidates are not exactly juggernauts either. First elected in 2014, Perdue has been a strong defender and ally of Trump, including his anti-immigration policies. And Perdue, like Trump, has done little outreach outside of his base. That approach likely ensures he will get almost total opposition from Georgia’s large bloc of Black votersThirty-two percent of voters in Georgia are Black, according to States of Change.

“>6 and will lose badly in the Atlanta suburbs. So if Ossoff can peel off a few white swing voters and the Democratic base turns out at really high levels, he can win this seat.

Loeffler is also likely to have trouble wooing voters outside of the GOP base because of the particular dynamics of her race. She was appointed in December 2019 by Gov. Brian Kemp, after longtime Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson retired. Because of that appointment, her race is officially a special election, with different rules than the Ossoff-Perdue contest. There were no party primaries. So more than a dozen candidates from both parties are running, with the top two advancing to face off on Jan 5. Kemp picked Loeffler with the idea that a 49-year-old woman who co-owns Atlanta’s WNBA team could run for this seat and appeal to more moderate voters. But GOP congressman Doug Collins, who represents an area in more rural northeastern Georgia, opted to run too. Collins is very conservative. So Loeffler, worried that Collins and Warnock would finish ahead of her, has aggressively moved to the right, looking to secure enough GOP votes to make it to the runoff.

In some polls, she is ahead of Collins and seems likely to make it into a runoff against Warnock. But she attacked the Black Lives Matter movement, and the players on the Atlanta Dream are now strong critics of her. Loeffler’s more moderate branding is gone. She is now like Perdue, a Republican who must run up the score among more conservative and rural Georgians to overcome opposition by Georgia’s urban, suburban and Black voters.

Texas

Biden has a 31 in 100 chance, according to our presidential forecast; Democratic candidate M.J. Hegar has a 13 in 100 chance, per our Senate forecast for the state.7

Why do Democratic chances seem slimmer in Texas? In terms of the Senate, the Republicans have a stronger candidate compared with those in Georgia and Iowa. Incumbent Sen. John Cornyn has won six statewide races in Texas: Supreme Court twice, attorney general once and Senate three times. In contrast, Hegar, a former Air Force pilot, has never held elective office. She ran and lost in a U.S. House race two years ago. As with Abrams in Georgia, it’s worth considering if ex-congressman Beto O’Rourke, who ran such a strong 2018 campaign for Senate in Texas, would be polling better than Hegar if he had run. Also, Democratic groups aren’t spending that much in the Texas Senate race since they can try to win smaller, less-expensive states like Iowa.

Similarly, as I alluded earlier, Biden’s campaign also hasn’t spent much time or resources trying to win Texas. That makes sense — Texas will almost certainly not be a tipping state that determines the election. But if Democrats fall short of winning the Texas House of Representatives, not investing in Texas might end up looking like a mistake. A Texas dominated by Republicans can draw district lines for congressional races that will make it hard for Democrats to win seats and keep their U.S. House majority.

Other polling bites

  • Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina led his opponent, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, 51 percent to 44 percent among registered voters, according to a Monmouth University poll released this week. Among likely voters, Cooper led Forest 51 percent to 37 percent in a recent New York Times/Siena College poll.
  • About 79 percent of Black Americans think that structural and systemic racism is a “major obstacle” to Black people in America achieving equal outcomes compared with white people, according to a new poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and The Undefeated. Fifty-seven percent of Hispanic Americans and 43 percent of white Americans agreed. About 73 percent of Black adults said that individual acts of discrimination and racism were a major barrier for Black people, compared with 67 percent of Hispanic adults and 46 percent of white adults.
  • In that same survey, 65 percent of Black men and 59 percent of Black women said that it is a “bad time” to be a Black man or Black woman in America. Just 25 percent of Black men and 34 percent of Black women said it is a good time. Black Americans are expressing much more negative views on their lives than when these questions were previously asked. In a 2006 KFF/Washington Post/Harvard University poll, 60 percent of Black men said that it was a good time to be Black in America, compared with 28 percent who said it was a bad time. In a 2011 KFF/Washington Post poll, 73 percent of Black women said it was a good time, while 15 percent said it was a bad time. (This was a really interesting poll, and I highly recommend reading it in full.)
  • According to a recent Navigator Research survey, 52 percent of registered voters said that the “worst is yet to come” in terms of dealing with the novel coronavirus. That’s compared with 32 percent who said “the worst is over” and 16 percent who said they didn’t know. The poll also found that 78 percent support laws in their states requiring people to wear masks in public places. That includes 92 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of independents and 62 percent of Republicans.
  • Just 21 percent of registered voters support adding justices to the Supreme Court, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll; 46 percent oppose the idea, and 33 percent are not sure.
  • New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, leads his Democratic opponent for governor, state senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, by 55 percent to 31 percent among likely voters, according to a new Suffolk University poll. The same survey found Biden ahead of Trump 51 percent to 41 percent in New Hampshire. U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, is ahead 51 percent to 36 percent in her reelection bid against her Republican opponent, Corky Messner.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,8 42.7 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 54.3 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -11.6 points). At this time last week, 43.2 percent approved and 53.4 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -10.2 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 43.1 percent and a disapproval rating of 52.7 percent, for a net approval rating of -9.6 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot,9 Democrats currently lead by 7 percentage points (48.9 percent to 41.9 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 6.5 points (49.3 percent to 42.8 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 6.5 points (48.6 percent to 42.1 percent).

Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections.

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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