Where the race stands, 4 days from Election Day

Florida tilting slightly toward Biden?

As I wrote Thursday, Florida has emerged as arguably the most pivotal state in the 2020 election. Winning Florida would significantly improve Trump’s chances of pulling the upset, and Biden said later Thursday, “If we win Florida, it’s game time — it’s over, it’s over.”

That may be slightly overstating things, but Florida’s 29 electoral votes will be huge come Tuesday. And Biden got some good news (with caveats) on Thursday.

A trio of high-quality polls showed Biden leading, though each lead is close to the margin of error. Monmouth University showed Biden maintaining a six-point lead among likely voters with high turnout, 51 percent to 45 percent. NBC News/Marist College showed him up four, 51-47, and Quinnipiac University showed him up 45-42.

Quinnipiac’s poll, notably, has jumped around quite a bit, with its September poll showing Biden ahead by a difficult to believe 11 points. So clearly there can be noise in these polls. As noted above, the fact that we’re close to the margin of error is also hugely important.

Texas and Hawaii already surpassed their total 2016 turnout

The explosion of early voting across the country continues apace. And we’ve now reached remarkable benchmarks in two states: Hawaii and Texas have already surpassed their entire 2016 turnout, with still days to go until Election Day.

Texas’s more than 9 million ballots cast are already more than in all of 2016. It bears noting that the state has grown significantly since then, adding more than 2 million people to its voting-age population — up more than 12 percent, according to the Texas secretary of state. But it’s still a remarkable number that suggests previously unthinkable turnout in an increasingly important state. The question now is whether record turnout might help Biden turn the state blue, which would essentially deliver him the presidency, given it has 38 electoral votes. Trump currently holds a narrow lead in the polling average, but unprecedented turnout can lead to the unexpected.

Hawaii, of course, isn’t competitive. But its 457,000-plus votes also crested its entire 2016 turnout.

Early voting stops on Friday in many key states, meaning totals may not rise significantly in the final days of the campaign. But a few other states are approaching this achievement, according to the United States Election Project. Georgia is at 87 percent of its 2016 turnout, while North Carolina is at 86 percent, and Florida and Nevada are at 82 percent. All are key states. Montana is also a potential sleeper for the Democrats, and its turnout is currently 91 percent of its entire 2016 turnout.

Trump’s ‘right track’ numbers, compared to recent history

So much about the 2020 race has been static, but one number has trended up in recent weeks: the percentage of Americans who say the country is on the right track. It’s still not good — and historically might not be good enough for the incumbent president.

What does that mean for Trump? According to data from Gallup, the “right track” number is the lowest it has been on the eve of an election since George H.W. Bush in 1992 (22 percent) and Jimmy Carter in 1980 (18 percent). Both lost reelection. But it’s not all that different from where things stood in 2012, when just 33 percent said the country was on the right track and Barack Obama still won another term. Economic confidence was also similar to where it is today.

Trump has in recent weeks played up other data showing Americans generally say they’re personally better off than they were four years ago. The “are you better off” question was made famous by Ronald Reagan when he defeated Carter in 1980, and the conventional wisdom is that it’s an important decider of the election. But the polls also show that Americans separate their personal standing from the country’s, with views of the nation’s status tilting much more negative.

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