After a tumultuous election cycle, the time has come at last for Americans to cast their ballots.
Media coverage has reached a fever pitch, and keeping up with the news cycle can be daunting for anyone. To keep the voting public and interested onlookers informed, we’ve compiled nine key charts that can help in answering key questions that people will have today:
- Who’ll win the U.S. presidential election?
- How could swing states flip?
- When will we know the election results?
- What are the stakes?
- What does the rest of the world think?
Let’s start with the biggest—and most challenging—of these topics first.
Who’ll Win the Election?
As the world learned in 2016, answering this question is not as simple as it looks—even when the poll results point to a clear victory.
Chart #1: Biden remains the odds-on favorite
In 2020’s race, the poll results are once again stacked against President Trump. Here’s a look at who’s ahead in aggregated national polls:
Although this election cycle has been a wild ride, that volatility isn’t necessarily reflected in the polls. Over the past three months, Joe Biden’s lead in the national polls has not dipped below three percentage points.
Chart #2: Viewing odds through a 2016 lens
That said, after the colossal miscalculation by the media and pollsters in 2016, many people are skeptical of the accuracy of polls. Luckily, there’s a way to look at predictions through a more skeptical lens. As this table from FiveThirtyEight demonstrates, even if the results are as wrong as in 2016, Joe Biden is still predicted to win.
Chart #3: Betting markets also agree
Prediction markets are another way to try to gauge how the election could turn out. Traders on PredictIt are also leaning towards a Biden win on election day. President Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis in early October served as a pivot point in that market.
Chart #4: The Sultans of Swing
There are a few swing states which will be hotly contested, with the candidates focusing their final days of campaigning on these.
Pennsylvania has received the most visits from both Trump and Biden since their last debate on October 22nd, with Trump visiting the state seven times and Biden stopping by four times.
Swing states have had strong early voting turnouts. In fact, the number of early voters in many swing states is already set to surpass the total number of voters they saw in the 2016 election.
While Arizona and Georgia have voted red for the past five elections, early predictions point to these states possibly turning blue in 2020.
When Will We Know the Election Results?
While the result of the presidential election is typically known on the night of the election itself, this year could see delays due to the tight race and the amount of mail-in ballots.
No matter what, state election disputes need to be settled before December 8th, the “safe-harbor deadline”. After this date, states run the risk of having Congress refuse to accept their electoral votes, with Congress also resolving any left over disputes.
Each state’s electors then meet on December 14th in order to elect the president and vice-president. Depending on how that goes, this interactive election timeline by The Guardian looks at a few nightmare scenarios that the U.S. could get caught in.
Chart #5: Visualizing mail-in ballots so far
Mail-in ballots can slow down the election result due to late ballot deadlines and the pre-processing required for them to be counted. Expect to see a correlation between states with high mail-in ballot numbers and how long it takes them to call their result.
Ballot deadlines depend on the state, with some states accepting ballots up until November 23rd as long as they were postmarked by election day.
While some states can start pre-processing ballots before election day, others can’t start until election day itself. Some counties (including some in swing state Pennsylvania) won’t be starting mail-in ballot counting until November 4th due to limited resources.
Why Are the Stakes So High?
Voters from both parties are heavily invested in who wins this election—a trend that’s been on the rise for years, coinciding with increasing amounts of political polarization.
Chart #6: Voter apathy, no more
According to a recent survey by Pew Research Center, 83% of voters say it “really matters” who becomes the next president. In 2000, only 50% felt so strongly about the outcome of the election.
To be fair, this year is also unique given a global pandemic—and this has certainly weighed heavily on many voters, creating more urgency than normal.
In fact, according to a survey conducted by Gallup in April 2020, 45% of Americans think Coronavirus/disease is the most important issue the country is currently facing.
Chart #7: Voters See COVID as a Top Concern
Research has shown a correlation so far between COVID-related deaths and reduced support for the incumbent. According to this graph from the New York Times, Trump’s approval rating tends to be lower in counties with higher death rates.
Chart #8: The price of democracy
The exceptionally high stakes could be a reason why this election is expected to be the most expensive to date. Spending is projected to reach over $13 billion, almost double the amount spent in 2016.
Source: Center for Responsive Politics
Chart #9: What the rest of the world thinks
Americans aren’t the only ones invested in the U.S. presidential election this year. The whole world is watching, and according to Ipsos, the majority is rooting for Biden.
But of course, the world doesn’t get to cast a vote today, making this final chart a moot point.
The real decision makers will be in the American electorate—and the forthcoming result will be on people’s minds for days, months, or maybe even years to come.
How Much Do Americans Trust the Media?
Media trust among Americans has reached its lowest point since Trump won the 2016 presidential election.
How Much Do Americans Trust the Media?
Media trust among Americans has reached its lowest point in six years.
Gallup began its survey on media trust in 1972, repeating it in 1974 and 1976. After a long period, the public opinion firm restarted the polls in 1997 and has asked Americans about their confidence level in the mass media—newspapers, TV, and radio—almost every year since then.
The above graphic illustrates Gallup’s latest poll results, conducted in September 2023.
Americans’ Trust in Mass Media, 1972-2023
Americans’ confidence in the mass media has sharply declined over the last few decades.
|Trust in the mass media||% Great deal/Fair amount||% Not very much||% None at all|
In 2016, the number of respondents trusting media outlets fell below the tally of those who didn’t trust the media at all. This is the first time that has happened in the poll’s history.
That year was marked by sharp criticism of the media from then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.
In 2017, the use of the term ‘fake news’ rose by 365% on social media, and the term was named the word of the year by dictionary publisher Collins.
The Lack of Faith in Institutions and Social Media
Although there’s no single reason to explain the decline of trust in the traditional media, some studies point to potential drivers.
According to Michael Schudson, a sociologist and historian of the news media and a professor at the Columbia Journalism School, in the 1970s, faith in institutions like the White House or Congress began to decline, consequently impacting confidence in the media.
“That may have been a necessary corrective to a sense of complacency that had been creeping in—among the public and the news media—that allowed perhaps too much trust: we accepted President Eisenhower’s lies about the U-2 spy plane, President Kennedy’s lies about the ‘missile gap,’ President Johnson’s lies about the war in Vietnam, President Nixon’s lies about Watergate,”
Michael Schudson – Columbia Journalism School
More recently, the internet and social media have significantly changed how people consume media. The rise of platforms such as X/Twitter and Facebook have also disrupted the traditional media status quo.
Partisans’ Trust in Mass Media
Historically, Democrats have expressed more confidence in the media than Republicans.
Democrats’ trust, however, has fallen 12 points over the past year to 58%, compared with 11% among Republicans and 29% among independents.
According to Gallup, Republicans’ low confidence in the media has little room to worsen, but Democrat confidence could still deteriorate and bring the overall national reading down further.
The poll also shows that young Democrats have less confidence in the media than older Democrats, while Republicans are less varied in their views by age group.
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