Biden 356
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Trump 182
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Dem 51
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Ties 1
GOP 48
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  • Strongly Dem (217)
  • Likely Dem (73)
  • Barely Dem (66)
  • Exactly tied (0)
  • Barely GOP (62)
  • Likely GOP (38)
  • Strongly GOP (82)
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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Saturday Q&A
      •  Today's Presidential Polls
      •  Today's Senate Polls

Saturday Q&A

We received dozens and dozens of questions this week that, in various ways, express concern that Joe Biden's lead in the polls is a mirage, and that the election is much closer than it seems. We will start with three answers that cover the most common variants of those questions.

Q: I have read a lot of articles about the current polling, many of which make the point that just about everyone thought Hillary Clinton was almost certain to win in 2016 based on the numbers. How would you compare the polling now, and the numbers at the same point in the 2016 race? S.B., Hood River, OR

A: We're going to point out four important differences:

  1. National Polling: At this point in 2016, Hillary Clinton's lead in national polling was about 3.5 points. Joe Biden's lead is about 9 points. Everyone knows that the president is not chosen by the popular vote, but that 5-6 point difference is enormous, and is more than the Republicans' Electoral College advantage can overcome.

  2. Firmness of Support: Nearly every day, we get multiple messages pointing out that at this point in 2016, we had Hillary Clinton with a near-identical number of electoral votes as we have Joe Biden with right now. While that is true, it overlooks that the tally at the top of the page is our best guess about what would happen if the election were held on that day. The much more important numbers are found at the top right, where we break down exactly how firm a candidate's support really is. On this day in 2016, Hillary Clinton had 256 "safe" EVs (184 "strongly Dem," 72 "likely Dem"). Joe Biden currently has 290 "safe" EVs (217 "strongly Dem," 73 "likely Dem"). One of those totals is on the magic side of the line, and the other is not.

  3. Undecideds: At this point in 2016, about 10% of voters were undecided. Right now, only about 5% of voters are undecided. That means there is much less room for movement in the polls.

  4. October Surprise: The great majority of undecided voters broke for Donald Trump, and they largely did so because of James Comey's October Surprise, which came on October 28. It is hard to imagine that anything so damaging to Joe Biden is coming down the pike in the next week or two. And even if it does, there are currently fewer undecideds than in 2016 (as noted), and considerably more early votes have already been banked.

A Biden victory is not guaranteed, obviously. But the argument that Biden 2020 is in the same position Clinton 2016 was, at this point in the race, simply does not hold water. And keep in mind The New York Times tracker we mentioned last week, which calculates what would happen if the polls were as far off in 2020 as in 2016. Even with that adjustment, Joe Biden wins with 319 EVs.

Q: I am a moderate Democrat in a red state who desperately wants Trump out of office. I'm helpless since my vote doesn't count, but have kept somewhat optimistic based on your polling data. However, I keep seeing "shy Trump voter" articles like this one, which send me into despair. Do you have any words of encouragement? A.K.P., Huntsville, AL

A: Note, first of all, that the link you sent (and most of the articles of this sort that we're seeing) is from a strongly right-leaning outlet. So, be leery of the author's motives. In any event, we will point out three issues with this hypothesis:

  1. No Evidence: The author of the linked article (which, by the way, is very badly written) pooh-poohs the lack of evidence for shy Trump voters as a logical fallacy, describing it as a "classic 'appeal to ignorance'." That is a misuse of that concept, however. Whether he does not understand the actual meaning, or he is being deliberately obtuse, we do not know.

    Anyhow, the fact is that in 2016, there was evidence of shy Trump voters. And that evidence was that Trump did about 1 point better in robopolls than he did in polls conducted by a live human. The logic here is that people might lie to a living, breathing person, but they are unlikely to do so when pushing buttons to communicate with a computer. This cycle, by contrast, Trump's performance in robopolls and human polls have been nearly identical. The disappearance of that gap is itself evidence that whatever shy Trump effect existed in 2016 has now dissipated.

    Incidentally, it is worth noting that even with the original "shy" effect, namely the Bradley Effect, there is a debate about how extensive it was, or whether it existed at all.

  2. Reasoning: For people to hide their candidate preference, there has to be some underlying reason for them to do so. In the case of the Bradley effect, the idea was that people did not want to appear racist. In the case of the 2016 shy Trump effect, the idea was that people didn't want to admit their support for a boorish reality TV star. But in 2020, do we really think that large numbers of Trump supporters are still in the closet, as it were? By virtue of his electoral victory, Trump has been substantially mainstreamed. Indeed, Trump supporters, by all accounts, appear to be unusually eager to wear their support on their sleeves, and not to hide it.

  3. Shy Biden Voters: To the extent that an argument still exists for shy Trump voters (people don't want to upset their spouse, friends, boss, etc.), the same argument exists for shy Biden voters. So, it is not enough to posit that shy Trump voters exist. There has to be some compelling reason (accompanied by compelling evidence) that they exist in much larger numbers than potential shy Biden voters.

In short, we think this is primarily a right-wing talking point that is used to make conservative voters feel better about their electoral chances.

Q: I'm writing because I've noticed a bunch of articles on various websites lately saying things like "The Republicans have a big advantage in voter registrations,"(or similar things) which, of course, I read as just a misspelling of "Democrats Are Doomed!" So, I wonder, do you have any understanding of what kind of relationship there is between these sorts of registration tallies (or at least the articles about them) and the polls, and more to the point, to the election results? Does any sort of relationship exist? I'm sure, like you've written about a bunch, lots of people on the left see anything suggesting Biden might be losing the grip a bit as a huge catastrophe. S.L., New York, NY

A: Obviously, a party would rather that a voter register with them than with the opposition. And Republicans have had some success this year, largely because they were willing to take to the streets in the middle of a pandemic, while the Democrats weren't. This certainly could work to the GOP's advantage, particularly if an election is close.

That said, don't overstate the effect too much. In most cases, we're talking about a relatively small gain for the Republicans relative to the Democrats. Further, there are a number of reasons that the "gains" won't actually translate to a large number of additional votes. Among them: (1) a big chunk of the new registrants are people who had already shifted their allegiance in past elections, and are now just making it official, (2) another chunk are unreliable voters who may not show up on Election Day, and (3) a third chunk are folks signing up to help their friend get the $10 bonus, or to get the voter registration person to leave them alone, or whose registration is otherwise not genuine.

Q: I just received a donation request email from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). I assumed, like last time, that once she won her primary her victory in the general election was virtually guaranteed. Am I wrong about this? Is her opponent a real threat? Or, as I suspect, does a congressperson even in a super safe seat just feel constant pressure to raise funds? If I am right about that, where does the money go for a congressperson with no serious challenger? K.P., Brooklyn, NY

A: AOC is in no danger of losing her D+29 district. The money she raises can be used in a number of ways. She can redirect it to candidates/causes she wants to assist. She can also use it for future campaigns, should she decide to run for Senate, or even for some office higher than that.

Q: How reticent will the networks and the AP be in calling states on election night? Will we go through a night of, to use an extreme example, "With 99.9% of the precincts reporting, Joe Biden is leading in the District of Columbia by a 90 to 10 margin but we are still not ready to call D.C. for him." Could they be wary of a blue shift, such as occurred in the 2018 Arizona Senate race?

On a trivial note, if Martha McSally loses, she will have lost two Senate races in 2 years. Has this ever occurred before?
T.R., Metuchen, NJ

A: The networks will have no issue calling various states, as long as the data is there to back them up. It's bad to call a state incorrectly, but it's almost as bad to lag behind the other networks in announcing winners and losers.

As to your second question, it's not that uncommon for someone to lose back-to-back Senate races, particularly as a member of the minority party in a state where the primary qualification for being nominated is "can you self-fund?" Since 1984, seven candidates have joined the club that is about to include McSally: Erskine Bowles (D-NC), Erik Fleming (D-MS), Christine O'Donnell (R-DE), Linda McMahon (R-CT), John Raese (R-WV), Scott Brown (R-MA, then R-NH), and Kevin Wade (R-DE).

Q: Which are the top three states that might be too close to call, and will have a significant number of mail-in and absentee ballots outstanding, say...48 hours after polls close on election night? K.P., Resort, MI

A: Georgia and Pennsylvania are large, likely to be close, and don't allow for the counting of absentee ballots to begin until 7:00 a.m. on Election Day. Michigan is similar in size, a shade less likely to be close, and doesn't allow for the counting of absentee ballots to begin until some unspecified time on Election Day. Maine is smaller than those three, but doesn't allow the counting of absentee ballots to begin until after polls close on Election Day. So, the top three is some selection from among those four. At the moment, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Georgia are at or approaching 1 million absentee ballots cast, so those are the three we will pick.

Q: I read report after report about Trump's support flagging among women, seniors and even white men, yet on 538 his approval scores indicate little erosion. They continue to be in the low 40s. If Trump is indeed losing support in large key groups, why don't the approval ratings at 538 show it? What's going on here? T.T., Bedford, NY

A: Recall that, in 2016, his personal approval rating was around 40%, and the number of people who felt he was fit to be president was also around 40%, and yet he got about 47% of the vote. In other words, a fair number of voters held their noses and voted for him, either because they disliked Hillary Clinton even more, or they were willing to take the bad in order to achieve the good they were hoping for. Our guess is that the movement among the groups you list is largely attributable to one-time nose holders who are no longer willing to hold their noses.

Q: I have been constantly impressed by the quality (and quantity) of the Lincoln Project advertisements which appear to me to be some of the best political ads of all time. That's great when they are on our side but I'm concerned with what will happen after Trump is defeated (as seems likely). What do you think that we (meaning readers of this site, not Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi) can do to bring top level talent like Steve Schmidt, Stuart Stevens and Mike Murphy over to our side on a more permanent basis? I'm sure that each of them hold positions considerably less progressive than mine but at least they have experience, intelligence, integrity and competence. C.P.S., San Jose, CA

A: It depends on which individual we are talking about, but in general, most of these folks are not future Democrats. They are conventional Reaganite Republicans, and were basically fine with Donald Trump as long as he was advancing conventional GOP priorities like conservative judges and tax cuts. It wasn't until he began to damage the Party and its electoral chances that they turned apostate. And the fondest dream of a Steve Schmidt or a Stuart Stevens is to reclaim control of the Party and to put folks like the Bush family back in charge.

It also appears, if you examine the evidence in this Twitter thread, that there is a fair amount of grift going on at the Lincoln Project. Those folks are paying themselves enormous salaries to do the hard work of overseeing the creation of a bunch of clever YouTube ads.

Q: What is stopping Texas Democrats from putting up their own ballot boxes like the GOP in California? If it is good for California, it should be good in Texas too. K.L., St. Michael, MN

A: At risk of being blunt, Democrats believe everyone's vote should count. And so, State SoS Alex Padilla (D) and State AG Xavier Becerra (D) may huff and puff about what the California GOP is up to but everyone knows that, in the end, they will accept the ballots, even if those ballots were collected under questionable circumstances.

By contrast, the current iteration of the Republican Party has shown, again and again, that it is not committed to everyone's vote being counted. And so, if Texas Democrats were to try to pull the same stunt as their California Republican brethren, there is an excellent chance that any ballots collected would be put in garbage bags by State SoS Ruth R. Hughs (R) and State AG Ken Paxton (R) and tossed in a dumpster.

Q: Surely flying and parking Air Force One all over the U.S. to use as a backdrop for rallies constitutes partisan, rather than government, business. Are there not restrictions on using government assets for political purposes? Why isn't anyone going crazy about yet another flagrant abuse? Given recent pay for play allegations not much surprises me about arguably the most corrupt US president ever. P.C., Yandina Creek, Queensland, Australia

A: Whenever a government asset is used for campaign purposes, the campaign is supposed to carefully account for that, and to reimburse the government. Barack Obama was particularly meticulous about this, but George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were pretty good about it, too. Donald Trump is much less so, but he won't be held accountable, and it won't raise many eyebrows, because the behavior will get lost in amongst all the other swampy behaviors.

Q: To what extent could Donald Trump be held personally liable or prosecuted for knowingly spreading COVID at a rally or government function? I imagine he has some sort of immunity (pardon the pun) if he's acting in his official capacity as President, but not when he is campaigning. P.F., Fairbaniks, AK

A: Being president does not confer immunity from prosecution for criminal acts. And it is at least plausible that if someone gets COVID-19 from Trump, and then dies, the President could be guilty of negligent homicide (sometimes called involuntary manslaughter).

In essence, if you behave recklessly, and someone dies as a result, you're responsible even if you had no intent to kill them. Drunk driving is the most common circumstance where this happens. You're also in trouble if you deliberately shield yourself from information that, had you known it, should have changed your behavior (this is called willful blindness).

All of this said, we think it would be difficult to prosecute anyone—president or no—because it would be very hard to prove that they were definitely the individual who passed on the fatal case of COVID-19 (as opposed to one of several possibilities). The most famous disease-spreader in American history is surely Mary Mallon (a.k.a. Typhoid Mary), and they were never able to prosecute her for this very reason. So, they eventually just forced her to quarantine, without benefit of charges or a trial.

Q: Four years is forever in politics, but I think that, re-elected or not, Trump has given the GOP a taste for a "cult leader." Who do you see on the GOP side that could credibly capture "that old Trump magic" in 2024? J.F., Ft. Worth, TX

A: Cults are not known for their intellectual heft or capacity for independent thought. When searching for a new leader, they will tend to gravitate toward the person who is most similar to the old leader. In this case, that would be Donald Trump, Jr. However, we don't believe he has any of his dad's "charisma" or feral cunning and would be a terrible candidate. So the Trumpists will have to find someone else. If they want a telegenic entertainer, Tucker Carlson might be available. Among politicians, Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) are available.

Q: I grew up in a fairly conservative household and it wasn't until my time in the Army that I felt like my views started to shift left. I acknowledge I am more liberal now than my 20-year old self but I also feel like the Republican party has also shifted, but I can't really identify any concrete policy shifts over the last 20 years (though there has been a huge shift in tone and rhetoric). Has the Republican platform shifted or is my perception wrong? If it has shifted, which policies have changed? P.N., Wilmington, NC

A: Mostly what has happened is that the Party has become more doctrinaire about its policy positions. They used to be ok with reasonable tax increases, commonsense gun control laws, a humane immigration policy, and so forth. Now it's no tax increases ever, no gun control ever, and as little immigration as is possible.

That said, there have also been some policy shifts. The GOP used to be pro-environment and very pro-science. Now, global warming denial and anti-science are core tenets. There are also some policy shifts that have specifically happened under Donald Trump (e.g., from anti-Russia to pro-Russia, from favoring international cooperation to isolationism), but those may not survive his presidency.

Q: If the GOP were to die out, do you believe that the two-party void would be filled by the fracturing of the Democratic Party? Without the pressure from the GOP, I could see the Democrats breaking up, with the centrist faction being the new conservative party, and the progressive becoming the new liberal party. R.A.S., Coram, NY

A: The GOP isn't going to die out. They may have some time in the wilderness, but the Party still wins a lot of elections, and collected more than 60 million votes for president in 2016. They will eventually adapt to the post-Trump political milieu, and will remain the conservative party.

The only time a party has collapsed in the last 200 years was when the Northern and Southern Whigs simply could not find a middle ground on the slavery issue, and so the Northern Whigs went and founded the Republican Party and the Southern Whigs became Southern Democrats. That dynamic has no parallel today and note that, even if it did happen, it was the minority party that split and reinvented itself, not the majority party.

Q: With Donald Trump now having made his third Supreme Court appointment in one term, what is the most a president has made in a single term? R.H.D., Webster, NY

A: Well, George Washington filled five seats on one day (September 26, 1789), for obvious reasons, and then another two later in his first term, for a record seven in one term. If you don't count that, then the record is William Howard Taft, who appointed five new justices and also promoted a justice from associate to chief, for a total of six appointments.

Q: Why did the Democrats continually grill Judge Amy Coney Barrett on hypothetical situations instead of asking her to defend her past judicial decisions? Would the Democrats have gotten any mileage out of pressing her to give examples of past cases where the law actually led her to decisions that were in conflict with her personal and/or religious beliefs? I feel like this might have been a more potent strategy than having her constantly refuse to answer essentially the same questions that everyone already knows the answers to. E.W., Skaneateles, NY

A: Because she's been a judge for only a few years, and so she has a limited record to work with. During her time on the bench, she's written 79 majority opinions, four concurrences, and six dissents, which isn't all that much. Further, none of her decisions really touched on the three issues the Democrats wanted to highlight, namely abortion, Obamacare, and election integrity.

Q: There was a lot of mention of Catholic bigotry at the confirmation hearings. When I was young, many Christians thought the only things worse than Catholics were atheists and Satan worshipers. Christians of other faiths would tell Catholics that they better convert and be quick about it or they would go to Hell. Has the status of the Catholic faith changed in recent years as they have succeeded in bringing religion into politics and politics into religion and joined forces with other Christian churches? G.W., Oxnard, CA

A: One reason for the historical enmity between American Protestants and American Catholics is the differences in doctrine between those two traditions. Those differences may not seem like a big deal to non-adherents, but they matter a lot to many believers. A second reason is the long-lasting struggle between those two faiths for control of Europe (and much of the world), which left a bitter taste in the mouths of adherents for generations and generations. A third reason, and probably the biggest one, is that nearly all Catholics in the 19th and early 20th centuries were immigrants (Ireland, Italy, Poland, Latin America) or the descendants of recent immigrants. And so, anti-Catholicism was strongly linked to xenophobia.

Over time, the connection between xenophobia and Catholicism has faded, in substantial part because the immigrant roots of many American Catholics are no longer immediately apparent (for example, Rep. Joe Kennedy III is six generations removed from his immigrant forebears). Further, many Catholics have embraced significant elements of American evangelicalism. People of Praise, the organization that Amy Coney Barrett is tied to, has much more of a Baptist flavor than a Catholic one.

Q: If the ACA is overturned by the Supreme Court, will a door be opened to Medicare for All? If the stars line up with Democrats winning the presidency, the House, and the Senate, and the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing, overturning the ACA could be a blessing in disguise. M.T., Los Altos, CA

A: That is very possible. Imagine that President Joe Biden or Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says something like this: "The Court has found that the free market approach to healthcare, developed by the conservative Heritage Foundation, is not constitutional. So, we're going to have to turn instead to an approach that has worked, and has passed legal muster, for nearly 60 years." That would be a tough framing to refute.

Q: While there have been all kinds of talk about packing the Supreme Court to overcome a 6-3 conservative majority, what if they just made it so Supreme Court justices had to be reconfirmed by the Senate every 15 years (or so)? This would impact at least three of the current justices, including Clarence Thomas and John Roberts. (See also below.) This could be applied to the lower courts as well. M.K., Atlanta, GA

Q: With all the talk of court-packing, it seems court-constriction has been overlooked. If Biden wins, could he not tell a (potentially) Democratic-controlled Congress to send him a bill paring down the number of justices from 9 to 7? M.L., Gainesville, FL

A: The Constitution makes clear that a judge keeps their job for life, unless they are impeached and removed. And so, firing one or more justices, or requiring them to submit to re-confirmation, would likely be unconstitutional in the absence of an amendment.

With that said, there are lots of schemes out there that would involve justices technically keeping their jobs, but being eased off the Court. For example, forced promotion to "justice emeritus" at the age of 75, or setting up a system where judges are rotated off the Court and back to the circuits after 10 or 15 or 20 years.

Q: I understand that the term "packing the court" means expanding the number of Supreme Court justices; however, aren't the Republicans "packing the courts" with Republican justices? S.N., Hatfield, PA

A: That's two different meanings of the term. Generally "packing the court" describes a maneuver in which seats are created for the sole purpose of filling them with ideologically sympathetic appointees. The Republicans are not currently doing that, they are merely filling as many existing (but vacant) seats with far-right appointees as is possible.

The term "packing the court" is so loaded with baggage at this point that Democrats would be wise to do some rebranding before they try it. "Modernizing the court" sounds considerably better, for example.

Q: As you have written, in the coming weeks we can expect many federal judges to render opinions on voting issues in myriad states. These days, when I see that a federal judge has ruled this way or that, my mind immediately wonders which president nominated that judge. A Google search later I get the answer. I can't be the only one doing this. Do you think news outlets will (or should) consistently identify the president who nominated a district judge or appellate judge when discussing that judge's opinion, particularly on lawsuits with direct political connection, in a manner similar to their current habit of identifying the state and party of every Senator and Representative? N.S., Vienna, VA

A: We wrestle with this all the time. On one hand, people want to know this information, and they have to look it up for themselves if we don't provide it. On the other hand, if we do include it, it serves to normalize the unhealthy-for-democracy notion that judges are merely political actors whose job is to enforce the will of the party that appointed them.

Q: Why does the Trump administration want to stop counting for the census? To have more ambiguous results and then they can fill in the blanks? Are they really only halting work in blue regions? R.B., Cambridge, MN

A: They are not halting work only in blue regions, they are halting work everywhere. And yes, it is because they know that the hardest-to-reach people skew minority and undocumented. The gaps will be filled in using various mathematical techniques, but the administration knows that the end result will almost certainly undercount urban, immigrant, and minority populations.

Q: I think I saw you write that the Congress has to accept the Census. They could cite problems with the count and order a new one. True or did I mis-remember? R.L., Alameda, CA

A: The Constitution says only that there has to be a census every 10 years. It does not forbid more frequent censuses. So, if Congress wanted a new census every six months, and they were willing to pay for it, then that would be legal.

As to the first part of your question, the census is indeed presented to Congress, and then they are supposed to turn around and use it to apportion congressional districts, federal aid, and the like. But they don't have to accept it. In fact, there is one past occasion where a census was effectively rejected. In 1920, the census bureau thought it would be a good idea to start the enumeration in January, rather than June. Their notion was that farm workers would have more time to respond, as opposed to having to respond in the middle of the harvest season. However, when the results came in, the big cities of the Northeast ended up being way larger than anyone expected.

What happened? Well, part of it was that many agricultural workers took up temporary lodgings in the cities during the cold winter months. And part of it was a dramatic increase in immigration due to the end of World War I and the conclusion of the flu pandemic. There were some members of Congress who were legitimately unhappy that the agricultural workers were being counted as city-dwellers, thinking that unfair to the more rural states where those folks resided for two-thirds of the year. There were other members of Congress who used the agricultural workers issue as a convenient excuse for their real issue, which was that they didn't want to count a bunch of immigrants. Anyhow, the House never reached agreement on what to do about the situation, and so they ended up ignoring the 1920 census. It's the only census that was never used to apportion congressional districts.

Q: One of the problems with polling in the 2016 election was that there were few or no polls in some states in the latter part of the run up to the election. You have Virginia as the tipping point (in both directions) and the last poll that anyone (you, 538, or RCP) seem to have for Virginia is mid-September with the result just barely outside the margin of error. Any concerns about the gap there? Any other similar states? B.P., Pensacola, FL

Q: Virginia was polled 29 times four years ago. Only 9 times this year. Why? B.C., Walpole, ME

A: Since B.P. wrote in, there have been a couple of polls of Virginia released. However, even prior to that, we did not see any real chance of it being a swing state. Every partisan statewide official there is a Democrat. The Party did very well in last year's elections, taking control of both chambers of the legislature (Virginia is one of the few states that elects state officials in off years). Further, the state is bluer than North Carolina. So, as long as there were polls showing North Carolina as purple (and there were many of them), then it was clear that Virginia remained blue, and that any poll that said it was swingy was just an outlier.

And the lack of polling there is because the state has shifted so aggressively blueward in the last four years. There's no way the Republicans win the presidential race there, or the Senate race. So, the time and expense of polling is not justified.

Q: I'm wondering what is up with Arkansas on your map. It's been one of only 2-3 "barely republican" states for quite awhile now, without having any polls published. I'm originally from Arkansas and would love to see it turn blue again, but I don't see it happening any time soon. So, question is, what's your reasoning for marking Arkansas as "barely republican"? A.J., Overland Park, KS

A: Our map is entirely poll-based. We use the most recent poll in each state and average it with any other polls within a week of it. Nobody has polled Arkansas since June 10. Why should they? So we are stuck with the June 10 poll. We don't really believe Arkansas is in danger for the Republicans, but we also don't go through and adjust the map based on our gut feel. FiveThirtyEight has a bunch of "fudge factors" (like pollster quality, fundraising, past elections, expert forecasts, etc.) in its model. Deciding how much to weight each factor is somewhat subjective. We don't do that. It is a different approach.

Q: I was looking at the tipping point scale, in particularly at the very bottom, the deep red states, and I noticed that Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Idaho haven't been polled at all this year. The same is true for some of the deep blue states. I also noticed Arkansas had only been polled once, back in June, and that one poll moved it from "safe GOP" up by 26 points to "barely GOP" by 2. A swing like the one in Arkansas could move some of these states into "margin of error" territory.

I don't think that it is likely these States will flip this election, but I also didn't think we'd be talking about Texas being purple. So, why aren't pollsters checking on these safe states to gauge if they are actually safe? Especially when we are seeing some big swings from 2016 results in the polls?
J.V., Atlanta, GA

A: Polling costs money, and someone has to pay the bills. Some pollsters, as we noted last week, do polls to publicize their business. There isn't much publicity in "small, red state remains red." Other pollsters are universities that are in search of PR. Again, there isn't much glory for Monmouth or Emerson or Quinnipiac in "Our polling says Idaho is still very red." Still other pollsters are employed by media outlets, usually television news broadcasts, or newspapers. These small states don't have all that many major media outlets, and the ones they do have often operate on a tight budget. If KBQI-TV Channel 2 or KNIN Channel 9, in Boise, ID, aren't willing to pony up for a poll of Idaho, then the poll probably doesn't get done.

Q: I read up to find that the three largest popular vote wins against an incumbent were Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 by 17.7%, Andrew Jackson in 1828 by 12.8%, and 1980 when Ronald Reagan won by 9.7%. My questions are: (1) We know why 1932 and 1980 happened, but why did John Quincy Adams lose so badly to Jackson? and (2) Where do you see Trump ending up on this list? J.H., Glendora, CA

A: Adams had a poor first (and only) term, was perceived as having stolen the presidency due to the "corrupt bargain," and was not backed by a formally organized political party while Jackson was. Further, many poor white men had gained the vote in the previous decade or so, and Jackson made sure he was the candidate of those folks.

As to Trump, he's not going to break into the top three, but we could see him in the top five, losing the popular vote by 7% or so.

Q: What percentage of incumbent presidential candidates have lost their re-election bids? J.W.H., Elizabeth, NJ

A: This is a harder question to answer than it seems, because some presidents seriously considered a reelection bid, then figured out which way the winds were blowing, and bowed out before or during the primaries. Such was the case, for example, with Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968.

Anyhow, our cutoff is going to be whether the president was one of the top three vote-getters on Election Day. Someone like that was clearly a serious candidate throughout the entirety of election season. And by that standard, 20 incumbents have secured reelection (one of them three times) while 10 have failed.

Q: While driving around rural Utah on a road trip, I spotted what was first assumed to be a wry Democratic comment on the election, but is in fact one of the Trump 2020 slogans: "No More Bullshit." This from a guy who has been documented as lying tens of thousands of times.

Once the laughter died down, I started wondering: have any other presidential campaign slogans been so completely lacking in self-awareness?
J.M., Portland, OR

A: Well, the Goldwater campaign was criticized for being out of touch with the issues and concerns of blue-collar Americans. That made the choice of AuH2O as a slogan a little tone deaf. Pro tip: If it takes a chemist to understand your political slogan, it's not a good slogan.

Q: You used the phrase "founding parents" several times this past Thursday. Is that to avoid using a sexist word? It seems to me that "founding fathers" is more accurate, unless there were women involved in the writing of the Constitution that I am unaware of; it also highlights the fact that we continue to rely on the political and philosophical ideas of these men from two centuries ago (who were also old, white, and slaveholders). P.B., Urbana-Champaign, IL

A: We use that because many of the Founders were clearly influenced by the women in their lives (most obviously John Adams, who counted his wife as his closest political adviser). Even if those contributions are not easily quantified, they definitely are a part of the story.

Q: Are there any U.S. presidents who were very unpopular during their tenure, but very popular afterwards, or vice versa? F.S., Cologne, Germany

A: Certainly. Warren Harding was quite popular while in office and, indeed, the last thing he heard before dying was his wife reading a flattering review of his presidency (headline: "A Calm View of a Calm Man"). Today, he's regarded as one of the worst presidents. Similarly, Ulysses S. Grant was wildly popular while in office, and for the remainder of his life. Thereafter, he was torn down by Southern propagandists, and his reputation has never recovered.

In the other direction, Harry S. Truman barely won reelection and left office with an approval rating in the 30s. Today, he is considered a Top 10 president. Similarly, Abraham Lincoln was widely reviled for much of his term, and believed as late as August 1864 that he would lose his reelection bid. Obviously, starting with the fall of Atlanta, things turned around, and he is now regarded widely as America's finest president.

Q: Maybe I am missing something but is there an easy way to search your site for old posts/analysis? I can't count the number of times I'm in discussions with someone about politics and I remember something I read on your site but not when and not with enough specificity to quote you back from memory. A.H., Dayton, OH

A: At the very bottom of the page is a search bar.

Q: I've noticed a number of "Star Wars" references on the site the past few years, many of which hail directly from "The Last Jedi." Who here's the fan of Rian Johnson's auteurist masterpiece? J.H., Studio City, CA

A: Roughly 99% of the pop culture references come from (Z), though it should be noted he's a fan of the whole series, and not just that installment.

Today's Presidential Polls

Florida's gonna be a barnburner. And this is our first poll of Hawaii, confirming that a state full of immigrants, people of color, and liberals will not be voting for Donald Trump in 2020. Who knew? (Z)

State Biden Trump Start End Pollster
Alaska 39% 45% Oct 09 Oct 14 Siena Coll.
Florida 48% 45% Oct 08 Oct 12 Mason Dixon
Florida 48% 48% Oct 12 Oct 15 HarrisX
Hawaii 61% 28% Oct 02 Oct 07 MRG Research
Michigan 54% 43% Oct 12 Oct 15 HarrisX
New Jersey 56% 36% Oct 07 Oct 13 Stockton U.
Pennsylvania 51% 46% Oct 12 Oct 15 HarrisX

Click on a state name for a graph of its polling history

Today's Senate Polls

Not great news for Al Gross, though it's hard to know what to make of a race where nearly 20% remain undecided. Pretty good poll for MJ Hegar, meanwhile. Can you imagine the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments that will take place at RNC HQ if a Democrat wins one of Texas' Senate seats? (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Alaska Al Gross 37% Dan Sullivan* 45% Oct 09 Oct 14 Siena Coll.
Michigan Gary Peters* 50% John James 43% Oct 12 Oct 15 HarrisX
New Jersey Cory Booker* 57% Rik Mehta 32% Oct 07 Oct 13 Stockton U.
Texas Mary "MJ" Hegar 46% John Cornyn* 49% Oct 14 Oct 15 PPP

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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