What to look out for in the days to come

Some of your most urgent election questions, answered.

At times it seemed as though 2020 would never get us here, but today is Election Day. Much is still in question. While Biden is heavily favored to win the popular vote, the Electoral College is still competitive.

Against this uncertainty, here is what the Ipsos public polling team will be keeping in mind as the results start to come in.

What states should we be watching tonight?

Keep an eye on Florida and North Carolina. Given that the polls show a Biden-Trump tossup in these two states, they will be a good bellwether of whether the race is going to be a Trump or Biden blowout — or if it will be a close one. And, compared to some of the other swing states, they have a faster system for counting votes, meaning we should be able to get an early, reliable sense of what is to come writ large.

Speaking of the swing states, what is happening there?

The swing states are still competitive. Our last and final round of Reuters/Ipsos swing state polls show a decided advantage for Biden in Wisconsin and Michigan, a narrower Biden lead in Pennsylvania, and a tossup in Florida, Arizona and North Carolina.

While Biden could very well win all six, his lead in those last three states is still within the margin of error. This ambiguity is one of the reasons why we cannot discount Trump’s chances. He could still piece together the requisite 270 Electoral College votes if enough swing states shift in his favor.

How is this different from 2016?

This time around, there is less volatility in the race. In 2016, many Americans held some doubts about both main-party candidates, leaving a bloc of undecided voters substantial enough to help Trump eke out a narrow victory in the swing states. This time around, we see fewer undecideds and less support for the third-party candidates. Kanye West, as it turned out, was not a gamechanger.

Finally, while Hillary Clinton’s considerable lead in the polls narrowed in the weeks immediately preceding the election, we have not seen the same occur for Biden. Taken together, the chances of an upset Trump win are smaller this time around. But no one should be counting one out.

Is there a possible “Shy Trumper” contingent hidden from the polls?

Our data do not support the idea that “shy” Trump voters are lying to or misleading pollsters. For one, many Trump supporters are very open and vocal about their backing of the president. But more importantly, Ipsos actively tests to see if there are systemic non-response biases in our surveys and have not found anything conclusive. While it is possible we could be missing some hard-to-reach groups, we carefully monitor the composition of our polls, and if we see a population that is missing we adjust our quota designs or weighting to ensure that it is representative.

How will early voting affect the outcome?

Voter turnout is way up this year, with at least four states already surpassing their total 2016 turnout in advance of Election Day. Considering that 138 million Americans voted in 2016, and that 2020 pre-Election Day turnout was already near the 100 million mark, we may be on track for historic levels of participation.

While Democrats likely have the edge in getting their votes in early, Team Trump is relying on tremendous turnout from Republicans on Election Day itself. If Trump does get that hoped-for GOP surge today, this might create a situation where he has an early but ultimately illusory lead when in-person votes are tallied first. We should all be looking out for sudden shifts as in-person and absentee ballots start to come in.

Will younger voters and people of color show up to the polls in greater numbers this time around?

Early voting shows a surge in participation from younger voters and Americans of color. How profound of a shift this is will not be known until after Election Day, but if the electorate ultimately skews younger and more diverse, it could be a boon to Biden and other Democrats running in 2020.

Some of these shifts are most striking in traditionally red states. A record 1.3 million Texans under the age of 30 cast a ballot by the end of early voting — more than their total vote count in 2016. And in Georgia, one million Black voters cast ballots early, up from 712,000 at the same point in 2016.

When will we know the outcome?

No one knows for sure. If this ends up being a Trump or Biden blowout, we could know the results fairly early on. But if the race is closer, it might be days before the final verdict arrives.

Pennsylvania is one of the most likely turning point state in the 2020 election. The polls favor Biden there, but his lead is just narrow enough to not definitively preclude a Trump win. If the race comes down to the wire in Pennsylvania, we might not know the results until the end of the week as absentee ballots get tallied up.

As for election night logistics — the first polls will close 7pm EST, and early results will start coming in then. At a certain point, states will be able to make a reliable projection of who the winner is, but the Electoral College math could get complicated if the race is close in the swing states and final counts are slow to arrive.

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Catherine Morris

Catherine Morris

Data journalist @Ipsos covering trends in public opinion around society, COVID and politics.