Why 4 Essential Swing States Likely Will Not Be Gotten In Touch With Election Night

The 2020 election is already underway in several states, but that doesn’t mean the rules aren’t still changing. (We’re tracking them all here.) In the past eight days alone, four important swing states have tentatively extended the deadline by which mail ballots must be received.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that ballots can arrive as late as Nov. 6 and still count as long as no evidence (e.g., a postmark) exists that they were mailed after Election Day (Nov. 3).A state judge in Michigan decreed that ballots can be counted as long as they are postmarked by the day before the election (Nov. 2) and received by Nov. 17.A federal judge ordered Wisconsin to count absentee ballots that are postmarked by Nov. 3 as long as they arrive by Nov. 9.And North Carolina reached a tentative court settlement with plaintiffs that, among other things, would allow ballots to count as long as they are postmarked by Nov. 3 and arrive by Nov. 12. (However, the settlement still needs to be approved by a judge before it officially goes into effect.)

Importantly, however, these changes aren’t set in stone; Republicans may continue to contest them in court. At the very least, GOP legislative leaders in Wisconsin have already appealed that decision to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, and Republicans say they plan to take the Pennsylvania decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If they stand, though, these rulings could be significant. First, they obviously make it easier to vote by mail — a more generous window for accepting ballots means fewer voters will be disenfranchised for mailing their ballots too late. In terms of the horse race, that’s likely to give Democrats a small boost in these states, since Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to say they plan to vote by mail this year.

Second, these rulings increase the odds that media outlets won’t be able to declare a winner in these four states on election night. And given the pivotal role these states will play in the presidential election — there’s a 56 percent chance that one of them will decide the Electoral College, according to the FiveThirtyEight presidential forecast — this in turn increases the odds that we won’t know the winner of the presidential race for days after the fact.

We haven’t written much about which states are expected to report most of their election results on election night and which will be delayed, because it’s actually pretty difficult to predict. Several different variables factor into how quickly a state counts its votes, including how many people cast mail ballots (which take longer to count than in-person ballots), how early the state is allowed to start processing mail ballots, and how well-resourced state election officials are. And with new court decisions and executive orders being issued on what feels like a daily basis, those variables are still subject to a lot of change.

But perhaps the surest sign that a state won’t be called on election night is if it accepts mail ballots that arrive after Election Day. By definition, any results these states release on election night will be incomplete because at least some ballots — and probably quite a few — will still be in transit. And with the recent developments in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and North Carolina, that means a majority of presidential swing states now fall into this category (at least for now).

Most swing states will be counting ballots after Election Day

The deadline for mail ballots to be received in likely tipping-point states

StateTipping-Point ChanceMail Ballot Receipt DeadlineAccepts Ballots After Election Day?Pennsylvania*33%Nov. 6Florida12Nov. 3Wisconsin*9Nov. 9Michigan8Nov. 17Arizona6Nov. 3North Carolina*5Nov. 12Ohio3Nov. 13Nevada3Nov. 10Minnesota3Nov. 10Colorado3Nov. 3New Hampshire2Nov. 3Georgia*2Nov. 6Virginia1Nov. 6Texas1Nov. 4*Subject to being overturned by a court.

“Tipping-point chance” is the chance that a given state will provide the decisive vote in the Electoral College. Tipping-point chances are as of Sept. 24 at 5 p.m. Eastern.

Sources: State election officials, news reports

Right now, it looks like our best chance of getting a call on election night in a major swing state is in Florida. In addition to not accepting ballots that arrive after Election Day, the Sunshine State begins processing mail ballots several weeks early, enabling them to release results extremely quickly on election night. On paper, Arizona also looks like it could be called on election night, although it doesn’t have a good track record of fast counting: In 2018, it took almost a week to declare a winner in some close races there.

But it looks increasingly unlikely that we’ll be able to declare an election-night winner in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. In addition to possibly having thousands of ballots still in transit on election night, these states will probably be slow to count even the mail ballots that have already arrived, since all three prohibit processing mail ballots before Election Day. (By contrast, North Carolina is allowed to process mail ballots well in advance, so we should learn the results of mail ballots that arrive by Nov. 2 shortly after polls close — but then have to wait days for the remainder.)

If Biden is leading in those states in the wee hours of Nov. 4, that may be the ballgame: Because mail ballots are expected to lean heavily Democratic, his margin will probably only increase as more mail ballots are counted. But if Trump is leading in these states, we could be in for days of waiting on the edge of our seat for every ballot dump. Since this is a distinct possibility, we must continue to prepare ourselves for a world in which we won’t know the identity of the next president until mid-November.

Trump Won't Commit To Peaceful Transfer Of Power | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast


Most Americans Want To Wait Until After The Election To Fill The Supreme Court Vacancy

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll(s) of the week

The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg opened up a rare vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, and Republicans are moving quickly to fill the seat. President Trump says he will nominate a replacement for Ginsburg on Saturday, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pledged a vote on the nominee this year. (And it looks as if he might have the votes to confirm her.) But polling conducted in the wake of Ginsburg’s death shows that this may be an unpopular decision.

We’ve identified 12 polls so far that have asked some version of the question, “Should Ginsburg’s seat be filled this year by Trump, or next year by the winner of the 2020 presidential election?” And on average, 52 percent of respondents have said to wait, while only 39 percent have said Trump should fill the seat now.

mericans want the election winner to choose a new justice

Polls conducted since Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death asking whether the Supreme Court vacancy should be filled by President Trump now or by the winner of the 2020 election

The seat should be filled by …PollsterDatesTrump nowthe 2020 winnerSurveyMonkey/InsiderSept. 18-1928%45%Data for ProgressSept. 18-193953YouGovSept. 194251ScottRasmussen.comSept. 194152Reuters/Ipsos*Sept. 19-204662RasmussenSept. 204551Morning Consult/PoliticoSept. 18-203750Global Strategy Group/NavigatorSept. 19-213656HuffPost/YouGovSept. 19-223649The Economist/YouGovSept. 20-224146CNN/SSRSSept. 21-224159Yahoo News/YouGovSept. 21-234053Average3952*Reuters/Ipsos numbers sum to more than 100 percent because the poll asked two separate questions: whether respondents thought Trump should fill the seat, and whether they thought the 2020 winner should fill the seat.

Source: Polls

If that split sounds familiar, that’s because it closely echoes both polls of Trump’s approval rating (43 percent approval vs. 53 percent disapproval, on average) and national horse-race polls between Trump and Joe Biden (which average out to Biden 50 percent, Trump 43 percent).1

In other words, partisanship is probably driving people’s opinions of when the Supreme Court vacancy should be filled. You also saw this in the crosstabs of almost every poll this week: On average, 78 percent of Republican respondents said Trump should fill the vacancy now, while 84 percent of Democratic respondents said it should be up to the winner of the election. (This is a reversal from 2016, when Democrats generally believed then-President Obama should have been allowed to fill Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat, while Republicans supported having the winner of the election decide.)

But this issue is also a great example of when question wording can really affect the results of a poll. For example, Americans felt differently about whether Trump should appoint a replacement and whether the Senate should confirm her if he does. For example, registered voters told YouGov by a 51 percent to 42 percent margin that Trump should not appoint a new justice, but they were more divided when asked, “If President Donald Trump appoints a new Supreme Court Justice before the presidential inauguration in January 2021, do you think the U.S. Senate should confirm the nominee?”: 45 percent said yes, 48 percent said no. Similarly, Global Strategy Group/GBAO/Navigator found that registered voters thought 56 percent to 36 percent that the winner of the election should be responsible for nominating Ginsburg’s replacement — but when asked what they thought what should happen if Trump nominates someone anyway, 42 percent thought it would be right for the Senate to vote on the nominee, while 47 percent thought it would be wrong.

In addition, some polls asked if Ginsburg’s seat should be filled before Election Day (Nov. 3), while others asked if it should be filled before inauguration day (Jan. 20). And while many voters would prefer to wait until after the election, that doesn’t mean they necessarily oppose Trump naming a nominee. In the SurveyMonkey/Insider poll, 45 percent of registered voters agreed that “whoever wins the election should appoint the next justice, and the Senate should not vote until the election is decided,” while 28 percent said the Senate should confirm her “as soon as possible, before the 2020 election.” But another 13 percent said it should happen “after the 2020 election but before the next inauguration, regardless [of whether] President Trump wins or loses.” So that suggests that 58 percent of voters want to wait until after the election, but that 41 percent of voters want Trump to be the one to fill the seat.

Relatedly, Reuters/Ipsos returned two seemingly contradictory findings: First, 62 percent of adults (including 49 percent of Republicans) agreed with the statement, “The winner of the election should be able to appoint Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement on the Supreme Court.” (Only 24 percent disagreed.) But the pollster also found that respondents agreed, 46 percent to 40 percent, with the statement, “President Donald Trump should nominate a replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsburg before his term ends.” It could be that Americans acknowledge Trump’s right to nominate a replacement but don’t want to see her confirmed until we know the results of the election. Or it could be that many Republicans believe Trump will be the winner of the election, so the two statements aren’t contradictory to them.

Another good example of how question wording might have affected people’s answers came from The Economist/YouGov, which asked, “Do you think Donald Trump should nominate someone to fill the vacancy, or should the seat remain vacant until a new president takes office in January 2021?” Referring to the seat as “remain[ing] vacant,” rather than saying that winner of the election would fill it, might have emphasized to respondents that the Supreme Court would be understaffed for at least four months in this scenario; the use of the phrase “new president” might also have implied “not Trump.” That could explain why this was one of the best polls for McConnell and Trump: Respondents supported waiting to fill the seat by only a 46 percent to 41 percent margin.

Overall, it seems clear that forging ahead with the confirmation process now is somewhere between a mildly unpopular decision and a very unpopular one. But it’s unclear whether it will actually hurt Republicans at the ballot box. As I wrote on Tuesday, only 5 percent of registered voters told SurveyMonkey/Insider that the Supreme Court vacancy made them less certain of their vote, and a plurality of respondents told Reuters/Ipsos that it would have no impact on their presidential vote.

And although the choice of who succeeds Ginsburg is important to many Americans — “very important” to 52 percent of them and “somewhat important” to 23 percent, according to The Economist/YouGov — it might not be as important as the other issues they were already basing their vote on. According to the HuffPost/YouGov survey, only 21 percent of voters said the Supreme Court is one of their top three issue priorities — well behind the economy (42 percent), the coronavirus (41 percent) and health care (34 percent).

Other polling bites

An Ipsos/ABC News poll has found that 69 percent of Americans don’t have confidence in Trump’s assurances that a coronavirus vaccine would be effective; only 27 percent placed a “great deal” or “good amount” of confidence in the president. In addition, the pollster found that the number of Americans who said they are likely to get the vaccine has dropped from 74 percent in May to 64 percent in September.According to a Harvard Institute of Politics survey, 63 percent of young Americans (under age 30) said they would “definitely” vote in the general election — higher than the 47 percent who said so in 2016. Among these young likely voters, Biden held a 60 percent to 27 percent lead.Traditional campaign field organizations — like knocking on doors to ask people for their vote — have been greatly diminished in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, some Democrats are worried that Biden’s campaign is doing so little on-the-ground outreach. But a new Morning Consult/Politico survey may validate Biden’s approach: 63 percent of voters said they felt apprehensive about answering the door for canvassers, while just 28 percent said they were comfortable with it.The race in California’s 53rd Congressional District won’t help decide who controls the U.S. House; the campaign is between two Democrats who both advanced from March’s all-party primary. But there are still big differences between 31-year-old self-funder Sara Jacobs, a moderate, and San Diego City Council President Georgette Gómez, a progressive who would also be the first openly LGBTQ Latina in Congress. But a new SurveyUSA poll conducted for KGTV-TV and the San Diego Union-Tribune gives Jacobs a 38 percent to 24 percent lead in the general election.Just want 2020 to be over already? You’re in good company. When YouGov asked Americans how the year 2020 has been for them, 21 percent said “bad,” and another 21 percent said “terrible.” While 37 percent of Americans said 2020 has been “okay,” only 12 percent said it has been “good,” and just 5 percent said it has been “great.”

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,2 42.9 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 53.2 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -10.3 points). At this time last week, 43.3 percent approved and 52.7 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -9.5 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 41.6 percent and a disapproval rating of 54.7 percent, for a net approval rating of -13.0 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot,3 Democrats currently lead by 6.4 percentage points (48.8 percent to 42.3 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 6.4 points (48.6 percent to 42.2 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 7.4 points (48.3 percent to 41.0 percent).

Derek Shan contributed research.

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


Trump Supporters Aren’t ‘Shy,’ But Surveys Could Still Be Missing out on Some Of Them

There’s this theory that won’t die. It goes something like this: Some unknown segment of President Trump’s support is too “shy” to admit they back him. Usually offered as an explanation for why Trump’s poll numbers weren’t better in 2016 or why they’re not better now, the idea hinges on Trump being such a controversial candidate that it’s not socially desirable to say you support him, and as such, there is a lot of hidden Trump support not captured by the polls.

Only, there’s scant evidence of this. In fact, there’s some evidence against the “shy” Trump theory.

If “shy” Trump voters were a thing, for example, you might expect a difference in how respondents reply to surveys conducted via telephone versus those anonymously submitted online — the idea being that social desirability bias is less likely to kick in when a respondent is dealing with a faceless computer instead of a real person. However, as Morning Consult’s new 2,400-respondent study shows, Trump performed about the same against Joe Biden, regardless of whether the pollster interviewed respondents by phone or online.

Online or by phone: It didn’t change support for Trump

Presidential support among likely voters, grouped by whether respondents were polled via live-phone interviews or online

Voter supportCandidateLive phoneOnlineDifferenceMargin of errorBiden56%55%-1±3Trump4445+1±3Among those who said they did not know who they supported, they were asked which candidate they leaned toward supporting. Their support is included here.

Source: Morning Consult

As Kyle Dropp, Morning Consult’s chief research officer, summed it up for me, “We ran a large sample study that does not find any shy Trump voters exist at the national level for the 2020 matchup.” The firm also checked the results among respondents in battleground states, but there too found little sign of shy Trump voters.

This finding is broadly in line with what other groups have found, such as a 2017 report by the American Association for Public Opinion Research that “yielded no evidence to support” the “shy” Trump theory. But that hasn’t stopped the ”shy” Trump theory from resurfacing in 2020. In fact, polls suggest that as many as 55 percent of voters are convinced that hidden Trump support could help him win reelection in some way.

This obsession with finding hidden pockets of support for Trump is part of a larger phenomenon we’ve observed for a while now: Trump is down in the polls, and has been for months, but if you ask Americans if they think he will win, many still say yes. And to be clear, Trump can win. We think he has a nearly 1 in 4 shot of doing so in our forecast, but that doesn’t mean he’s not an underdog.

This is similar to what we said in the lead-up to the election in 2016. Then, Trump was an ordinary, average polling error away from winning the election, in which if he beat his polls by just a few points in just a couple of states he could win — and in fact, that’s exactly what happened.

Yet even though the polls in 2016 performed reasonably well, part of the reason we’re still talking about shy Trump voters is because the state polls had higher levels of error, especially in some key battleground states in 2016 that decided the election. Moreover, polls showed a large percentage of undecided and third-party voters in the lead-up to the 2016 contest, which produced a sizable number of late deciders who ended up disproportionately backing Trump. And in all likelihood, surveys missed some Trump supporters due to sampling difficulties and weighting choices that pollsters made.

In other words, the likely reason we’re still talking about shy Trump voters is because the polls could still be missing some Trump voters — it’s just not because they’re shy.

One of the main takeaways from 2016 was that many state-level polls underrepresented the number of white voters without a four-year college degree in the electorate, a group that overwhelmingly backed Trump in 2016. As a result, some pollsters have since weighted their surveys by education, but not all have. It remains a critical cleavage that pollsters still need to address.

Weighting for education is complicated, though; namely, highly educated Americans are more likely to answer a poll than less educated Americans, and in an era of increasingly lower response rates, this could be a problem as underlying samples may be more educated than the actual population. The upshot is that even if a pollster is weighting its respondents to match the educational breakdown of a state’s population, it still may not be reaching enough voters with lower education levels. This could in turn affect the poll’s findings for the presidential race because the educational divide is now one of the most important predictors of party support besides race.

This means that pollsters could once again find themselves underestimating Republican support in 2020 because of weighting and sampling issues. After all, separate analyses by Sean Trende at RealClearPolitics and Nate Cohn at the New York Times’ The Upshot both found that after the polls undershot Trump’s support in 2016 in key battleground states like Florida, Iowa, Michigan and Ohio, the same thing happened in 2018 with those states underestimating Republican Senate and gubernatorial candidates. Overall, though, the polls were pretty good in 2018.

The larger lesson, really, is that it’s impossible to predict which way polling errors will run in an election. There are reasons polls might be missing some Trump supporters, but there are also reasons the polls could be underestimating Biden’s support. Indeed, there have been plenty of cycles in which polls overall have been biased (in a statistical sense) in favor of Republican candidates.

Polling bias is small and unpredictable

Weighted average statistical bias of polls in the final 21 days before general elections, among polls in FiveThirtyEight’s pollster ratings database

CycleGovernorU.S. SenateU.S. HousePresidentCombined1998R+5.6R+4.5R+0.8R+3.81999-2000R+0.4R+2.7D+1.2R+2.4R+1.92001-02D+3.0D+1.3D+1.5D+2.22003-04D+1.7D+1.1D+2.7D+1.1D+1.52005-06D+0.2R+1.3D+0.7D+0.02007-08R+0.1D+0.4D+1.1D+1.0D+0.82009-10R+0.1R+0.7D+1.7D+0.62011-12R+1.6R+3.1R+2.9R+2.5R+2.82013-14D+2.3D+2.6D+3.8D+2.72015-16D+3.3D+2.7D+4.1D+3.3D+3.02017-18R+0.9D+0.1R+0.6R+0.52019-20*D+2.9TBDD+6.0TBDTBDAll yearsD+0.5D+0.1D+0.8D+0.3D+0.3Bias is calculated only for elections where the top two finishers were a Republican and a Democrat. Therefore, it is not calculated for presidential primaries. Averages are weighted by the square root of the number of polls that a particular pollster conducted for that particular type of election in that particular cycle. Polls that are banned by FiveThirtyEight because we know or suspect they faked data are excluded from the analysis.

*The gubernatorial and U.S. House figures are preliminary and based on small sample sizes. Because there are no polls of Senate or presidential races to incorporate, no combined score is given.

All in all, the good news for pollsters is that few, if any, voters are misleading them about their support for Trump. Yes, Morning Consult found small differences in support for Trump via household income and education, with wealthier and college-educated voters less likely to say they support Trump in a live-phone poll, but the shifts weren’t statistically meaningful. So while there might be a handful of reluctant Trump voters, it’s not on the level of the systemic polling challenges we’ve discussed that could still undersell how much support the president has. We should, as always, be prepared for some degree of polling error, but it’s probably not going to happen because of shy Trump voters.

Think The Electoral College Is Unfair to Democrats? Try The Senate. | FiveThirtyEight


What The Supreme Court’s Uncommonly Huge Dive To The Right May Look Like


With the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, President Trump will have his third opportunity to nominate a justice to the country’s highest court. This nomination, however, has the highest stakes yet for Trump, the Republican Party and the conservative legal movement. If successful, it may cement a 6-3 conservative majority on the court that could fundamentally push law in the United States to the right.

Of course, Trump hasn’t yet announced who his nominee will be, although he’s pledged to appoint a woman, which does narrow the possibilities somewhat. But it’s hard to predict how any given candidate’s ideology will compare to the current justices — let alone how she will rule once she joins the court. If we assume that Trump will nominate one of a handful of people who have repeatedly appeared in reports about his short list, though, Ginsburg’s replacement will almost certainly represent one of the three biggest ideological shifts on the court since 1953:

It’s really, really rare for presidents to be able to seismically shift the court’s center of gravity with a single nomination. But that’s exactly what Trump’s replacement for Ginsburg is poised to do. There are only two other moments in modern Supreme Court history that are comparable to this one: the replacement of Justice Thurgood Marshall with Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991 and the replacement of Chief Justice Earl Warren with Chief Justice Warren Burger in 1969.

Big swings in the court’s make-up are rare

Supreme Court justice replacements by the biggest changes in ideological rank, where 1 is most liberal and 9 is most conservative

the Six biggest shifts on the supreme CourttermJusticeRankReplacementrankchange1991Marshall1Thomas9+81969Warren2Burger9+72020Ginsburg2Trump nominee+5/+6*1969Fortas3Blackmun8+51990Brennan2Souter5+31962Frankfurter8Goldberg5-31965Goldberg5Fortas2-3*Estimated change

When there were more than nine justices in a term, we dropped the justice(s) who voted in the fewest cases (e.g. O’Connor in 2005, Douglas in 1975).

Source: Martin-Quinn scores

Of course, it’s important to underscore that the data we have for Ginsburg’s potential replacement isn’t perfect. For one thing, we are relying on Judicial Common Space scores, which are based on the ideology of the senators who were instrumental in getting these judges appointed or the nominating president, and not based on the judges’ actual words or actions once they got there.1

We looked at the JCS scores for four federal judges who have all floated to the top of short-lists for the nomination: Amy Coney Barrett, Barbara Lagoa, Allison Jones Rushing and Joan Larsen. Each of these judges would bring something different to the court, but broadly speaking, the effect is the same no matter who Trump chooses: All of these nominations would result in a far more conservative justice taking the place of the court’s second-most liberal justice. According to their JCS scores, all four fall between Justice Neil Gorsuch and Thomas ideologically — that is, somewhere in the vicinity of Justice Samuel Alito, who is currently the second-most conservative justice on the court.

This is a pivotal moment for the court, but it’s not unprecedented. In fact, it looks as if this juncture might share a number of similarities with the other two huge swings that have occurred since 1953. For example, when Marshall retired, he was one of the most liberal justices on the court. But with his departure, President George H.W. Bush was able to replace the first Black Supreme Court justice with Thomas, another Black legal star who was Marshall’s polar opposite in every other respect — and has consistently been the most conservative justice on the court since he joined. We don’t yet know who Ginsburg’s replacement will be, but it’s likely to be a woman who’s the inverse of Ginsburg in many ways — including her stalwart support for abortion rights.

Additionally, when President Richard Nixon nominated Warren Burger to replace Earl Warren as chief justice, he effectively ended the 15-year liberal era that came to define Warren’s tenure. Similarly, the Roberts court might be about to undergo its own transformation, as any of the potential nominees on Trump’s short lists would almost certainly land to the right of Chief Justice John Roberts, knocking him out of the ideological center of the court and limiting his ability to serve as a moderating force. A judge like Barrett or Lagoa, who appear to be the front-runners, could end up being even more staunchly conservative than Justice Gorsuch — who has flipped to the liberals a handful of times during his three years on the court — or Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

In fact, even if Trump’s nominee is on the less conservative end of our estimated range, she will likely have a much bigger impact on the makeup of the court than either Gorsuch or Kavanaugh, who have brought their own distinctive way of thinking about the law to the Supreme Court but didn’t differ that dramaticatically from their the justices who previously filled their seats. Part of Gorsuch’s appeal when he was appointed to the court in 2017 was in his judicial similarities to his predecessor, Justice Antonin Scalia. And while the replacement of Justice Anthony Kennedy with Kavanaugh in 2018 got a lot of attention for supposedly replacing the court’s swing vote with a reliably conservative one, the two were not actually that ideologically far apart.

And that’s why this Supreme Court nomination fight will be such a big deal. It’s hard to figure out exactly how conservative or liberal a given person actually is before they join the court, and it’s also hard to predict how they’ll rule once they get there. And there’s always the possibility that judges could drift to the left or right once they have a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court. But we can see from this analysis that whoever the nominee is, they’re likely to change the court in ways that we’ve only seen a handful of times in modern history. Almost no president gets that kind of opportunity. And that’s why Trump — and the Republican-controlled Senate — may be willing to risk a lot to make it happen.


The Partisan, Gender and Generational Distinctions Amongst Black Citizens Heading Into Election Day

Graphics by Anna Wiederkehr

Because most national and state polls include only a small number of Black voters, we rarely get the opportunity to take a detailed look at how preferences and opinions vary within the Black community. Too often, the national political discourse never gets beyond “the Black vote,” full stop.

But this year, at least four different groups — the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape polling initiative, Morning Consult, the African American Research Collaborative and HIT Strategies — are conducting surveys with bigger samples of Black Americans in the run-up to the 2020 election. And issues of race and systemic racism have dominated stretches of the campaign.

So, with just about 40 days until Nov. 3, we took a detailed look at where Black voters stand. Here’s what we learned:

Candidates are getting similar levels of Black support to past nominees

According to recent Democracy Fund polling, 83 percent of likely Black voters favored former Vice President Joe Biden, 10 percent favored President Trump, and 8 percent said they didn’t know which candidate they will back.1 Recent Morning Consult polling found almost exactly the same thing — 84 percent for Biden, 10 percent for Trump and 7 percent undecided or favoring a third-party candidate.

So it seems likely that Biden will end up winning close to 90 percent of Black voters, with Trump winning around 10 percent, as experts on Black voting say undecided Black voters tend to consolidate to the Democrat as we get closer to Election Day. If that happens again this year, Biden’s roughly 80-point margin over Trump among Black voters would be fairly typical for U.S. presidential elections.

It’s interesting that Trump appears to be turning some white people against him in part because of his controversial racial comments but he hasn’t really lost any Black support (and he might even do a bit better this year than he did in 2016 with Black voters). Of course, that’s largely because he had so little Black support to begin with — there isn’t much room to do worse. But there is a core bloc of about 10 percent of Black Americans who are Republican-leaning and they appear to be sticking with Trump. Indeed, the 2020 numbers suggest that it might be hard for Democrats to replicate the 90-point margin among Black voters they had in 2008 and 2012 with Barack Obama running as the first-ever Black major party presidential nominee.

Protests and the Harris pick didn’t have big, long-lasting effects

Neither the protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May nor the selection of Kamala Harris, the first Black and Asian American vice-presidential nominee, resulted in big and durable boosts in Biden’s Black support.

That’s not to say there’s been absolutely no movement in the Biden-Trump race among Black voters. Biden’s biggest lead among Black voters came throughout June, following Floyd’s death and the early days of the protests against police brutality. That makes sense: Scholars have found that because of past experiences with discrimination and prejudice, Black people are more likely than other racial and ethnic groups to view their fate in a collective way. The Floyd killing and the weeks of intense national discussion about systemic racism against Black people, particularly their treatment by police, likely increased feelings of collective identity among Black Americans, given the renewed salience of issues surrounding policing in Black communities.

The selection of Harris as the first-ever Black woman on a major-party presidential ticket didn’t really change Biden’s standing among Black voters at all, according to the Nationscape polling. That’s not surprising or necessarily a sign that she was a bad pick. First of all, Biden didn’t have much room to grow in terms of his Black vote share — he was already in the 80s by mid-August. Also, Harris’s selection probably wasn’t as much about boosting Biden with Black voters this November in the first place. The pick addressed other goals for the former vice president, such as making the Democratic ticket more balanced in terms of age, gender and race; recognizing Black women for long one of most Democractic-leaning demographic groups in the electorate; and recognizing Black voters overall for their role in boosting Biden during this year’s Democratic primary.

There is a substantial gender gap

According to the Nationscape survey of likely voters from Aug. 27 to Sept. 9, Biden led Trump among Black men 76 percent to 17 percent; Biden led among Black women 87 percent to 4 percent. This is also pretty standard. Black men, like men in most other demographic groups, tend to be more Republican-leaning than their female counterparts. Trump won about 14 percent of the Black male vote in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center, while his support from Black women was virtually nonexistent.

But this gender gap is favorable to Biden in an important way — Black women tend to vote at higher rates than Black men (64 percent of voting-eligible Black women turned out in 2016, compared to 54 percent of Black men). Women generally vote more than men, but the turnout gap between Black women and Black men has long been larger than that between white women and white men.

Black youth are more skeptical of Biden, the Democratic Party

Among white likely voters, Biden’s best margins are with the youngest cohort (those 18 to 29 years old). But among Black likely voters, Biden’s biggest margins are among older cohorts.

And when you conduct polling among all Black adults (as opposed to just likely voters), as HIT, AARC and Democracy Fund have all done this year, this age gap is even wider. Among all respondents, older Black people support Biden by a wide margin while younger Black people are more supportive of Trump. Moreover, younger Black respondents are much more inclined than older Black respondents to say that they don’t know which candidate they’ll support (which may explain at least somewhat why they indicated that they are unlikely to vote in the race).

The polling by both HIT and AARC in particular tell a fairly clear story: Older Black people are more clearly partisan Democrats than younger Black people, both viewing the Democratic Party and its leaders much more favorably than younger Black people and viewing the GOP with more disdain than younger Black people. Among Black registered voters age 50 and older, 75 percent said they thought congressional Democrats were doing a good job, compared to just 22 percent who thought congressional Democrats were doing a poor job, according to a HIT survey conducted in June. But among Black voters under age 50, only about half (54 percent) approved of congressional Democrats, while 36 percent disapproved. Black voters under 50 (57 percent) were more likely than those 50 and over (40 percent) to agree with the statement, “The Democratic Party takes Black people for granted,” according to HIT polling.

Among Black people over 65, 77 percent had a favorable view of Harris and just 10 percent viewed her unfavorably, according to HIT polling conducted in late August and early September (after her selection as Biden’s running mate). Among Black people ages 25 to 34, 28 percent viewed her favorably and 44 percent unfavorably. (The rest were neutral or didn’t know.)

Similarly, in AARC polling, older Black Americans express more anti-Trump views and more pro-Democratic Party views on a number of measures than their younger counterparts. They also seem more enthusiastic to vote, in part because they seem to view voting as part of lifting up the broader Black community.

The divide between older and younger Black voters

Share of Black voters who hold the following positions or agree with the given statements

Ageposition18-2960+OverallTrump is a racist79%90%84%Trump is incompetent749079I vote to support the Black community *547163Democratic Party is “welcoming” to Black Americans477661Trust congressional Democrats to “do what is best” for Black people437357I do not always like Trump’s policies, but I like the way he shows strength and defies the establishment.351030Definitely motivated to vote297855Trust congressional Republicans to do “what is best” for Black people29821GOP is “welcoming” to Black Americans28722I don’t vote because it doesn’t make a difference *21214* Share of voters who said they “agree strongly” with the statement.

Survey was conducted online July 1-9 in Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin on behalf of the American University Black Swing Voter Project.

Source: African American Research Collaborative Poll

“Unlike their elders, who came up with fresh memories of civil rights activism, young folks aren’t willing to tolerate voting for the ‘lesser of two evils.’ They told us they would just as soon stay home,” said Sam Fulwood, a fellow at American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, who recently conducted focus groups with young Black voters as part of a research project.

In an interview, Terrance Woodbury of HIT described younger Black voters as having “systemic cynicism” towards institutions like the Democratic Party.

“There is a level of disenfranchisement and disengagement,” he added. Woodbury also argued that some of Trump’s messages have resonated with younger Black voters in particular. In focus groups, according to Woodbury, younger Black voters often mention the criminal justice reform bill that the president signed into law, his support for increased funding for historically Black colleges and the low Black unemployment rate before the coronavirus outbreak.

These differing views among Black Americans may not just be about age. When looking at all Black respondents (not just likely voters), Biden had more support among Black voters who were college-educated and those with higher-incomes, according to the Nationscape data. So it might be that more established Black people (older, more educated, higher income) are more satisfied with the Democratic Party than other Black Americans.

We’re not sure this is a huge problem for Biden, because it doesn’t appear that Trump is going to win a big share of younger Black voters, those without degrees or those with lower incomes. But a lack of enthusiasm for Biden might show up in terms of turnout.

It’s really hard to judge turnout at this stage

But the safe bet is that Black turnout won’t match white turnout, as in previous years (the exceptions being 2008 and 2012).

If Black Americans are really galvanized by the protests, Harris on the ticket or hatred of Trump, their voting rates will probably be the biggest indicator. In 2012, not only did the Black voting rate reach a record high of 67 percent, but Black voting rates were equal to white voting rates. In 2016 and then 2018, Black voting rates were a few percentage points behind white ones, as is the historical pattern.

It is really hard to gauge Black turnout from the polls we have now. Even when Obama was on the ballot, younger Black people voted at much lower rates than older ones — but across all ethnicities and races, younger people vote at lower rates. So the surveys above noting that younger Black people are not as supportive of Biden and Democrats don’t themselves predict lower turnout.

That said, the evidence we have indicates that super-high Black turnout was related to the chance to elect and then reelect the first-ever Black president. That is not happening in 2020, so it’s more likely that Black voting patterns will resemble 2004 or 2016 than 2008.


Will Senate Republicans Back Trump’s Push To Fill Ginsburg’s Seat– Even If He Loses Reelection?

Two of the biggest questions in the aftermath of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death are, “Will whomever President Trump chooses to replace Ginsburg be confirmed?” and “How will the nomination and confirmation process affect the 2020 elections?” Those two questions are, of course, connected. And the place where they really intersect is the U.S. Senate.

The Senate will play a pivotal role in deciding the answer to the first question, but its members will also be on the receiving end of whatever political fallout the fight to fill Ginsburg’s seat kicks up. So let’s look at both the confirmation process and the electoral process from the perspective of senators.

Electoral concerns will play a big role in the confirmation process

Republican Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona and Thom Tillis of North Carolina are the three GOP incumbents most in danger of losing reelection, according to FiveThirtyEight’s Senate forecast. In fact, they’re all underdogs at the moment. Two other GOP senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Joni Ernst of Iowa, are in toss-up races. On the other side of the aisle, Democratic Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama is also facing an uphill battle for reelection.

The outlook for incumbent senators up for reelection

Chances of winning reelection according to FiveThirtyEight’s “deluxe” forecast, as of Sept. 20, 2020, at 9 p.m. ET

StateIncumbentPartyDEM CHANCESGOP CHANCESRhode IslandReedD100%MassachusettsMarkeyD100DelawareCoonsD100OregonMerkleyD100New JerseyBookerD991IllinoisDurbinD991VirginiaWarnerD991New HampshireShaheenD991MinnesotaSmithD937MichiganPetersD8119ArizonaMcSallyR7822ColoradoGardnerR6931North CarolinaTillisR6238MaineCollinsR5347IowaErnstR4456MontanaDainesR3565AlabamaJonesD2872GeorgiaPerdueR2773South CarolinaGrahamR1684AlaskaSullivanR1486TexasCornynR1288Louisiana*CassidyR392MississippiHyde-SmithR595KentuckyMcConnellR496South DakotaRoundsR199IdahoRischR100NebraskaSasseR100West VirginiaCapitoR100OklahomaInhofeR100ArkansasCottonR100*In Louisiana’s Senate election, multiple candidates from each party will be on the ballot on Election Day. If one candidate gets at least 50 percent of the vote, that person wins the seat, but if no candidate clears that bar, the top two vote-getters advance to a runoff election. This table shows the chance that Bill Cassidy will win reelection rather than the chance that any Republican will win the seat.

Given that it’s the final stretch of the campaign and all these senators are at risk of losing their seats, you can bet that electoral factors will be weighing heavily in however they decide to vote on Trump’s nominee and the process to confirm her.1

Even senators with safer seats, including Republicans Steve Daines of Montana, David Perdue of Georgia and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, will be trying to figure out how the Supreme Court vacancy factors into their races. And as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Graham would be leading the confirmation hearings for a Trump Supreme Court nominee. (Ernst and Tillis are also on the committee.)

Emergency Podcast: The SCOTUS vacancy | FiveThirtyEight

Before we can make any firm conclusions about how the politics of this will play out, we’ll need to wait for Trump to make his pick and for more polling to come out, but out of the gate it seems as though Collins, Gardner and Jones have the most to lose in this process.

The confirmation fight is likely to be highly partisan and highly polarized — and it’s likely to be a major part of the discussion in the campaign’s final weeks. Democratic voters almost universally oppose anything Trump does, while Republican voters almost universally support the president. Trump and many prominent Republicans are demanding that any nominee be voted on — implying that they will support a confirmation vote before the November election or one after the election even if Trump loses to Joe Biden. Meanwhile, Democrats are largely united in their view that whichever candidate wins the presidential election should choose Ginsburg’s replacement. So all 100 senators are going to be pressed on the question, “Should whoever wins the presidential election choose Ginsburg’s replacement?” The senators themselves (and probably voters too) will know that the position of the Democratic Party is yes and the position of the Republican Party is no.

Having a highly partisan issue dominate the political debate is problematic for Jones, Collins and Gardner in particular because all three senators are running for reelection in states where the majority of voters are aligned with the other party. At the same time, breaking with their party on a high-profile issue like this could annoy their base, which would also make it harder for them to win reelection.

Take Trump’s approval rating in each of these states. The president is significantly more popular in Alabama (57 percent approval, 40 percent disapproval, per Civiqs) than he is nationally (42 percent approval, 55 percent disapproval per Civiqs; 43-53 per FiveThirtyEight’s average of a number of polls). Trump’s net ratings in Maine (-23 points) and Colorado (-19 points) are significantly worse than his national standing. And in Arizona (-11 for Trump) and North Carolina (-8), the president’s standing is fairly similar to where he is nationally.

These general electoral dynamics have perfectly predicted the reactions of these senators in the days since Ginsburg’s death. McSally and Tillis are among the Republicans who already announced that the Senate should vote on a Trump nominee, whether the president wins the election or not. That makes sense for them — on a highly partisan issue like this in a closely divided state, the safe bet is to just stick with your party. (Perdue, in Georgia, has also said he supports Trump’s nominee moving forward, regardless of the November election results.)

In contrast, Collins (in blue-leaning Maine) has adopted the Democratic position — that the winner of the presidential election should choose Ginsburg’s replacement.

Gardner and Jones have been noncommittal so far. That makes sense too — their choices are basically to either annoy their party’s base or annoy the clear majority of the electorate in their states. Neither stance is ideal, so it’s not surprising that they are hesitant to say anything.

In the end, the vast majority of senators will stick with their party

No matter what their electoral considerations are, however, expect most senators to align with their party. That’s what usually happens on high-profile issues.

For example, the confirmation vote for Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination was also on the eve of an election (Oct. 6, 2018). West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, up for reelection that November in a very pro-Trump state, broke with his party to vote in favor of Kavanaugh’s nomination. But the other nine Democrats who were up for reelection in 2018 in states that Trump won in 2016 voted against Kavanaugh.2 The one GOP senator up for reelection in 2018 in a state Hillary Clinton won in 2016, Dean Heller of Nevada, also voted the party line, supporting Kavanagh.

Overall, Manchin was the only Senate Democrat to back Kavanaugh; Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski was the only Republican who didn’t support him.3 (More on Murkowski in a bit.)

Similarly, on the Trump impeachment votes in February, senators up for reelection this year aligned with their parties instead of their states’ politics when the two conflicted. (Collins and Gardner opposed both articles of impeachment, whereas Michigan’s Gary Peters and Jones voted in favor of both articles.) Utah’s Mitt Romney was the only Republican to vote for Trump’s removal, which all Senate Democrats supported. (More on Romney in a bit.)

What explains this? First of all, senators may put their personal ideological views ahead of their electoral considerations, particularly on judicial nominations. After all, it’s likely that a Republican senator would be fairly aligned with someone like Kavanaugh on most issues while a Democratic senator would be opposed. Second, the electoral effects of these kinds of votes are not totally clear. For example, Montana is more Republican-leaning than Florida, but Montana Democratic incumbent Jon Tester won reelection in 2018 while longtime Florida Democrat Bill Nelson lost. (Both voted against Kavanaugh.) Manchin voted for Kavanaugh and won, but it’s not clear he won because he voted for Kavanaugh.

Third, members of Congress, particularly those in states where they are not electorally safe, must consider their futures if they lose those elections. And the career incentives for politicians usually point toward sticking with your party on key votes. Jones was a prominent U.S. attorney, so it’s easy to imagine him serving in some legal post in a Biden administration if he should lose reelection in Alabama in November and Biden should win. But Democrats would probably be less eager to put Jones in a high-profile role in a Biden administration if Jones had voted for Kavanaugh, opposed impeachment and spent the weeks before the 2020 election urging the Senate to hold a vote on Trump’s nominee to replace Ginsburg.

Senators like Gardner and McSally who have been down in the polls for months are probably aware that they are unlikely to be in Congress next year. So they might be positioning themselves for lobbying jobs (which usually involves maintaining strong relationships with the people in your party who are still in Congress) or future runs for other offices. So to keep doors open to them in GOP circles, Gardner and McSally may align with their party’s general posture in this nomination process, even if that approach slightly reduces their chances of winning reelection.

Murkowski and Romney will really matter

Murkowski has broken with her party in two major ways in the Trump years: opposing the push to repeal Obamacare and opposing Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Romney’s impeachment vote was arguably one of the biggest rebukes of a sitting president from a member of his own party in recent history. So it would not be surprising if they didn’t align with Trump on this issue.

Murkowski said over the weekend that Republicans should not fill Ginsburg’s seat before the election. That is similar to the stance being taken by Senate Democrats and Collins, but not exactly the same. Murkowski has not ruled out supporting the confirmation of a Trump nominee postelection — even if Trump loses in November. Speaking of that possibility …

Preelection commitments could change postelection

The disagreement between the parties is really over who gets to pick the nominee (Trump or whoever wins the election), not over the timing. I doubt Democrats will strongly object to Republicans confirming a new justice in late November or early December if Trump has clearly won the presidential election.

That said, the considerations for individual senators are much different. Collins, in the context of her reelection campaign, is suggesting that she would not support Trump picking a nominee if he loses the election. But if Collins herself loses reelection and a vote on the nominee comes up in December, her pledge to Maine voters isn’t binding. She might feel comfortable reneging on it. It’s not just Collins — there is no guarantee that preelection statements from senators mean much postelection.

Also, the postelection period might have another wrinkle. Since McSally was appointed to her Senate seat, Arizona law suggests that her Democratic opponent, Mark Kelly, could be seated as soon as late November if he wins that race. The math for Republicans is harder if they must confirm a judge with a 52-48 majority instead of a 53-47 one, so I would assume that they would push for a vote while McSally is still there.

Based on what we know right now, here’s the mostlikely way that the dominoes will fall: Trump chooses a nominee this week. The Senate holds hearings in October, but there is not a vote on the nominee before the election. Biden beats Trump. In the postelection, lame-duck Senate session, 50 Republican senators and Vice President Mike Pence combine for 51 votes to confirm Trump’s nominee, with the 47 Democrats, Collins, Murkowski and Romney in opposition.

I’m not predicting all this will happen — there’s plenty of time for things to change — but that’s the picture we have right now. We can expect a lot of drama over the next few weeks, but in reality, only one question really matters: How many sitting Republican senators will prevent a sitting Republican president from adding a sixth Republican-appointed justice to the Supreme Court, giving the party a dominant majority on the court for perhaps a generation? The answer is, of course, not very many. But there might be four.

Remembering Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg


There’s No Such Thing As The ‘Latino Vote’

With only 42 days left until the election, Joe Biden has his work cut out for him with Latino voters. That’s according to his senior adviser Symone Sanders, who has had to answer for why Biden appears to be losing ground among Latinos. According to a recent Latino Decisions/National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials poll, 65 percent of Latinos plan to vote for Biden or lean toward him, but this is still 14 percentage points lower than the 79 percent of Latino voters who said they supported Clinton in the pollster’s national election-eve poll in 2016.

It’s true that Latino voters do, as a whole, tend to be more Democratic than Republican, a trend that has only accelerated in recent years. But they don’t vote as a single bloc (in 2016, at least 1 in 5 Latino voters still backed Trump): How Latinos vote in Florida, for instance, can be very different from how Latinos in the Southwest or Northeast vote. These differences especially matter due to the size of the Latino population in a number of key swing states.

Top 10 states by share of the citizen voting age population that is Hispanic or Latino

StateHispanic share of CVAPNew Mexico42.2%Texas29.4California29.2Arizona22.7Florida19.4Nevada18.4Colorado15.2New Jersey14.4New York14.3Connecticut11.6Shaded states are those with a greater than 1 percent chance of deciding the 2020 presidential election, according to the FiveThirtyEight forecast as of 4 p.m. on Sept. 21.

Source: American Community Survey

The size and diversity of this group make it even more difficult for any candidate — even a Democrat — to take Latino voters for granted. On the one hand, many of the political divides we see play out among Latino voters — along lines of gender, age and religion — are similar to what we observe in other big groups in the electorate, but there are unique considerations here, too, like how long Latino voters have lived in the U.S. or their specific place of origin. And this year, depending on how some of these divides within the Latino community manifest, the “Latino vote” could end up splitting in a number of key states — with Biden benefiting in some instances, and Trump benefiting in others.

Distance from the immigration experience matters

One of the biggest factors in a Hispanic voter’s political identity is how long his or her family has been in the United States. For instance, foreign-born Latinos and the U.S.-born children of Latino immigrants tend to be more Democratic than Latinos whose families have been in the U.S. for at least three generations. According to Latino Decisions’s election-eve poll, first-generation Hispanic Americans1 were 12 percentage points more likely than third- or higher-generation Hispanic Americans to support Clinton in 2016 (84 percent vs. 72 percent), although both groups strongly supported her over Trump.

“Many Latino Americans can trace their family history to before the United States was the United States,” says Melissa Michelson, a professor at Menlo College who studies Latino politics. (Specifically, 32 percent of Latino registered voters are third generation or higher, according to Pew Research Center’s 2019 National Survey of Latinos.) “And they have a very different perspective from folks who are closer to the immigration experience.”

Gary Segura, a co-founder and senior partner at Latino Decisions, sees both economic and cultural factors at play. First, higher-generation Hispanic Americans are likelier to be higher income, which nudges them toward the Republican side of the aisle. But their Hispanic identity also tends to be weaker. For instance, a 2017 Pew report found that only about one-third of self-identified Hispanics whose families have been in the U.S. for at least three generations had parents who took them to Hispanic cultural celebrations or who spoke often about their heritage while growing up, and relatively few live in predominantly Hispanic or Latino neighborhoods. According to that Pew report, Latinos are more likely than white or Black people to marry people of other racial and ethnic backgrounds — which means that Latinos with deeper family roots in the U.S. are also more likely to be of mixed ancestry. Simply put, the longer a Hispanic family has lived in the U.S., the likelier they are to have assimilated — and vote more like white Americans, who lean toward the Republican Party.

On the flip side, foreign-born Latinos and their U.S.-born children — groups that make up about one-third of Latino registered voters each, per Pew — tend to have stronger identities as Latinos or immigrants. That, in turn, makes them likelier to be turned off by President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, which political scientist Betina Cutaia Wilkinson told FiveThirtyEight “has definitely brought together Latinos more than we would have seen in the past.”

In a survey of the same group of first-generation immigrants conducted before and after the 2016 election, political scientists Michael Jones-Correa and James McCann found that respondents’ fear about the deportation of friends or family members rose after Trump became president, regardless of whether they were personally at risk of being removed from the country. And first- and second-generation Hispanic Americans may be especially likely to have a close friend or family member who is not a citizen, or even undocumented.

Share of poll respondents saying each issue is most important for the next president to address

IssueShare of RespondentsCoronavirus49%Health care costs30Racism/discrimination26Jobs/wages21Criminal justice reform17Stopping Trump16Immigration reform16Anti-Latino/anti-immigrant discrimination15Climate change15Lower taxes10Mass shootings/gun policy8Stopping Biden7Border security7Reducing crime6Improving education6Affordable housing6Terrorism5College costs4Women’s reproductive health4Lower government spending3Limiting abortion2Other3Respondents could give up to three answers.

Source: Latino Decisions/National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials

That said, the importance of immigration to Hispanic voters can be overstated. In that Latino Decisions/NALEO poll, immigration was tied as the sixth most important issue Latinos wanted the next president to address (that said, “addressing racism and discrimination” ranked third). Instead, Latinos’ priorities tend to mirror the general population’s: The coronavirus ranked first, followed by health care.

Relatedly, Latinos who speak Spanish as their primary language are likelier to vote Democratic than those who primarily speak English. It’s possible that’s just a byproduct of the divide by immigrant generation — Spanish speakers are also likely closer to the immigration experience. Mark Hugo Lopez, Pew’s director of global migration and demography research, conducted a multivariable analysis and found that, once generation was controlled for, language was not a statistically significant determinant of Hispanic partisanship.

But Michelson noted that language is intimately tied to assimilation — and media consumption. Spanish-language news, in particular, encourages viewers to think of themselves as part of a pan-ethnic Latino group living in the United States, Michelson said. That kind of coverage can shape the way people think about issues like immigration, even if they haven’t been personally affected.

Ethnicity also factors into partisanship

Latinos tend to identify with their specific nationality first, and as Latino second. The Hispanic experience can be very different depending on one’s place of origin. Puerto Ricans may not have all that much in common with Mexican Americans, who may find it hard to relate to Cuban Americans. This, in turn, can affect how and why they vote.

Take Cuban Americans. At only 4 percent of the national Latino population,2 they don’t seem like an influential group at first blush — but they are disproportionately concentrated in the crucial swing state of Florida, where they make up a plurality (29 percent) of the Hispanic population. After Fidel Castro and his communist regime came to power in 1959, Cuban Americans began fleeing to the U.S. in droves and embraced the Republican Party, which was perceived as tougher on communism throughout most of the Cold War; in addition, many Cuban Americans blamed Democratic President John F. Kennedy for the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

But Cuban Americans have been drifting toward Democrats in recent elections — they basically split their support between the two candidates in 2016. That, it turns out, is due to generational changes: According to an analysis by EquisLabs, a data firm that focuses on the Latino vote, voters who personally fled Cuba are still strongly Republican, while the growing share of Cuban Americans born in the U.S. actually lean Democratic.

However, there’s mounting evidence that Trump is making a comeback of sorts with Cuban Americans this year. “Trump has reversed Obama’s policies on Cuba and taken a hardened stance on Venezuela,” whose socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro is seen as a modern-day Castro, said political scientist Dario Moreno. “That has improved his standing with Cubans.” Indeed, a recent EquisLabs poll of Florida found Trump leading Biden among Cuban Americans, 54 percent to 37 percent.

Other Latino origin groups lean toward Democrats to varying degrees. Mexican Americans — who, per Latino Decisions, supported Clinton 81 percent to 15 percent in 2016 — basically singlehandedly drive the narrative that Latinos are core Democratic voters thanks to their overwhelming numbers: 63 percent of the national Latino population is of Mexican descent, and that figure is even higher in swing states like Arizona, Nevada and Texas. According to Florida International University Professor Eduardo Gamarra, the group has trended toward Democrats in large part because of the clear contrast between the parties on racial and immigration issues.

Like Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans are solidly Democratic: Latino Decisions found they supported Clinton 79 percent to 19 percent. However, there is a sense that Puerto Ricans have yet to live up to their potential for Democrats. “Puerto Rican political participation on the island is above 80 percent,” Segura said, but “Puerto Rican turnout on the mainland is lower than any other subgroup of Latinos.” And according to Moreno, Puerto Ricans in Florida (where they make up 21 percent of the Hispanic population, as opposed to just under 10 percent nationally) are less Democratic than their counterparts in the Northeast. While Trump has a fraught relationship with the commonwealth, Moreno says that might not matter much to Florida’s Puerto Ricans because many left the island precisely because they have a negative view of the Puerto Rican government.

There is little research on the political leanings of the remaining Latino nationalities — mostly because they are too small to poll easily. However, combined, they may have small but significant voting power: For example, Central American origin groups like Salvadoran Americans, Guatemalan Americans, Honduran Americans and Nicaraguan Americans combine to make up a decent share of the national (9 percent) and Floridian (11 percent) Hispanic population. Clinton won 82 percent of Central American voters in 2016, per Latino Decisions, and Biden could do even better this year. Central Americans “have really been damaged by the president’s immigration policy,” such as his efforts to end Temporary Protected Status, explained Moreno. “This is where Democrats will have some opportunities.”

Finally, several experts told FiveThirtyEight that Trump’s hardline stance toward Venezuela appears to be endearing him to Venezuelan American voters, but they also cautioned against making too much of it. According to Gamarra’s polling, Trump is still under 50 percent with Venezuelan Americans. More importantly, they represent a mere drop in the bucket of the broader electorate: They make up just 3.7 percent of the Hispanic population in Florida and 0.7 percent of the Hispanic population nationally.

Latino evangelicals are a swing group

Religion is another fissure within the Latino community that often matters a lot politically — although not in the ways you might expect. Recent data from the Pew Research Center shows that slightly less than half (47 percent) of Hispanic adults identified as Catholic in 2018, while 24 percent were Protestant and 23 percent were religiously unaffiliated. That means Latinos are about as likely to be nonreligious as the American population as a whole — and the uptick in the share of religiously unaffiliated people is largely coming at the expense of the Catholic population, which has been losing ground in the past 10 years.

The fact that Latino Catholics make up a smaller share of the population is a potential downside for Biden, since Hispanic Catholic voters are one of the most Democratic religious groups around, and Biden’s Catholicism might be a motivator for some Catholic voters this year. In general, though, the fact that Catholic voters mostly seem to be heading into the nonreligious — rather than the Protestant — column isn’t a bad thing for Democrats, since nonreligious voters are moving steadily into the Democratic camp with no real outreach from the party or the candidate, and Latinos are no exception. “An increasing share of Latinos are identifying as liberals, and that’s being driven by the growth of the ‘nones,’” said Juhem Navarro-Rivera, the political research director at Socioanalítica Research, a consulting firm that specializes in Latino and Hispanic politics.

But the group among which Biden is most liable to struggle — and where Trump may have the most success picking up or maintaining support — is among evangelicals, who make up the vast majority of Latino Protestants. Navarro-Rivera and other experts told us that Latino evangelicals tend to be more right-leaning than Catholic or nonreligious Latinos, although they’re nowhere near as conservative as white evangelical Protestants. According to Latino Decisions’s 2016 election-eve poll, 60 percent of Latinos who identify as born-again Christians (a group that overlaps heavily with evangelicals) supported Clinton, while 37 percent supported Trump. By contrast, 82 percent of Hispanic Catholics supported Clinton and only 15 percent supported Trump.

“Latino evangelicals are more conservative, but they’re not heavily Republican — really, they’re a kind of swing group,” said Navarro-Rivera.

It’s been difficult, though, for Republicans to make more inroads with this group as the share of Latinos who are Protestant has held steady for at least the past decade. Not to mention, the party has largely stood behind Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, and that might give some Latino evangelicals pause. “Immigration is a complicated issue for [Latino evangelicals], because they are more conservative generally but many are immigrants or work with immigrants,” Navarro-Rivera said. “So there are these cross-pressures that complicate the way they approach these issues.”

Latinos are also divided by age and gender

The rising share of Latinos who are nonreligious highlights another cleavage that could matter a lot electorally: age. Like religiously unaffiliated Americans overall, nonreligious Latinos are overwhelmingly likely to be young. And the population as a whole is young, too: According to a Pew analysis from 2018, 61 percent of Latinos were under the age of 35. Most young Latinos are also U.S. born, which means they’re eligible to vote.

Young Latinos tend to be more liberal — but less loyal to the Democratic Party — than older generations. But it’s hard to untangle how much of these differences are unique to Latinos or just a reflection of broader divisions within the electorate. “I think a lot of younger Latinos’ worldview is shaped by a sense of the Democratic Party’s failures,” said Bernard Fraga, a political science professor at Emory University who studies Latino politics. “In their lifetimes they’ve seen a failure to deliver on immigration reform, and a lot of compromising and settling for second best.” That, according to Fraga, helps explain why young Latinos are more dissatisfied with mainstream Democratic candidates than their parents or grandparents. And it emphasizes why why this might be a difficult group for Biden to reach. As we wrote during the Democratic primary, Sanders benefited from his campaign’s extensive outreach to Latinos — particularly young Latinos — in states like Nevada and California, while Biden struggled to connect with this group.

Gender is an example of another division that matters for Latinos — but maybe not in a way that’s so different from Americans as a whole. Over the past few years, turnout among Hispanic women has risen, and they’ve simultaneously become an even more reliable Democratic voting bloc. Lopez noted that education could be at least partially driving this shift: The share of Hispanic women with a four-year college degree has risen to 22 percent, up from only 14 percent about a decade ago. Hispanic men are also increasingly likely to go to college, Lopez said, but not at the same rate as women. But he also noted that these trends don’t significantly differ from those seen in female voters overall. And most of the experts we talked with agreed that this is probably an area where Latinos are largely being influenced by the same forces that are shaping the entire American electorate.

The diversity of the Latino community not only shows why many voters still vote Republican, but also highlights the need for campaign mobilization efforts tailored to different corners of the Latino community, even for candidates like Biden who are pretty much guaranteed a solid majority of the Hispanic vote. Arguably, with efforts like his cultivation of Cuban American voters, Trump has done this more effectively than Biden, who has been criticized for months for his lack of a comprehensive plan to reach Latino voters. It almost certainly won’t be enough for Trump to win the Latino vote outright, but he may be able to hold onto a greater share of the Latino vote as a result.


The Senate’s Rural Skew Makes It Extremely Hard For Democrats To Win The Supreme Court

I don’t have a particularly strong take on how the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg will affect either the presidential election or the race for control of the U.S. Senate. And I’d encourage you to avoid putting too much stock in anybody else’s take for now, too. The very earliest indication is that President Trump’s desire to move full-speed ahead toward naming Ginsburg’s replacement could be unpopular, but that’s based on only one poll.

But here’s what I do know: the Senate is an enormous problem for Democrats given the current political coalitions, in which Democrats are dominant in cities while Republicans triumph in rural areas. And because the Senate is responsible for confirming Supreme Court picks, that means the Supreme Court is a huge problem for Democrats too. Sure, Democrats might win back the Senate this year — indeed, they were slight favorites to do so before the Ginsburg news. But in the long run, they’re likely to lose it more often than not.

Emergency Podcast: The SCOTUS vacancy | FiveThirtyEight

You can probably grasp intuitively that a legislative body which provides as much representation to Wyoming (population: 580,000) as California (population: 39.5 million) will tend to favor rural areas. But it’s a bigger effect than you might realize, so let’s run some numbers. At FiveThirtyEight, our favorite way to distinguish between urban and rural areas is based on using census tracts to estimate how many people live within a 5-mile radius of you. Based on this, we can break every person in the country down into four buckets:

Rural: Less than 25,000 people live within a 5-mile radius of you;Exurban or small town: Between 25,000 and 100,000 people within a 5-mile radius;Suburban or small city: Between 100,000 and 250,000 people within a 5-mile radius;Urban core or large city: More than 250,000 people within a 5-mile radius.

As it happens, the overall U.S. population (including Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico) is split almost exactly evenly between these buckets: 25 percent rural, 23 percent exurban/small town, 27 percent suruban/small city, and 25 percent urban core/large city.

But what does representation look like in the Senate? Since each state has the same number of senators, this is simple to calculate. We can take the urban/rural breakdown for each state and average the 50 states together, as in the table below:

The Senate has a major skew towards rural voters

Proportion of population by area across the U.S. as a whole, in each individual state and in the average state (i.e. as reflected in the Senate)

StateRuralExurban /Small TownSuburban /Small CityUrban Core /Big CityU.S. population total*25%23%27%25%Average state35262514StateRuralExurban /Small TownSuburban /Small CityUrban Core /Big CityAlaska53%18%28%0%Alabama5133160Arkansas583660Arizona17192935California8132654Colorado21183031Connecticut8354511Delaware2427490Florida13273526Georgia3129327Hawaii23223519Iowa5229190Idaho4236220Illinois19152838Indiana3727332Kansas4125313Kentucky5220235Louisiana4130209Massachusetts6323527Maryland13222936Maine692560Michigan30232819Minnesota36192520Missouri4119319Mississippi652960Montana594110North Carolina3736251North Dakota4939120Nebraska3617398New Hampshire3942180New Jersey5183344New Mexico4128265Nevada1392553New York14141557Ohio26293312Oklahoma4423321Oregon29212426Pennsylvania23312521Rhode Island8312239South Carolina4041180South Dakota6519160Tennessee4131280Texas21173427Utah21194119Virginia28223417Vermont792100Washington20223919Wisconsin41271913West Virginia643600Wyoming663400*Totals for the U.S. as a whole include Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico

Because there are a lot of largely rural, low-population states, the average state — which reflects the composition of the Senate — has 35 percent of its population in rural areas and only 14 percent in urban core areas, even though the country as a whole — including dense, high-population states like New York, Texas and California — has about 25 percent of the population in each group. That’s a pretty serious skew. It means that the Senate, de facto, has two or three times as much rural representation as urban core representation … even though there are actually about an equal number of voters in each bucket nationwide.

And of course, this has all sorts of other downstream consequences. Since rural areas tend to be whiter, it means the Senate represents a whiter population, too. In the U.S. as a whole, 60 percent of the population is non-Hispanic white and 40 percent of the population is nonwhite.2 But in the average state, 68 percent of people are white and 32 percent are nonwhite. It’s almost as if the Senate has turned the clock back by 20 years as far as the racial demographics of the country goes. (In 2000, around 69 percent of the U.S. population consisted of non-Hispanic whites.)

It also means that the median states — the ones that would be decisive in the event of a 50-50 tie in the Senate — are considerably redder than the country as a whole. In the next table, I’ve arranged the states from top to bottom based on how much more or less Republican they were than the national average in the presidential elections in 2016 and 2012.3

red state is most likely to decide the Senate

Republican margin or deficit in the last two presidential elections relative to national average by state and a blended average (representing current partisan lean)

RankState20162012Blended*1Wyoming+48.4+44.7+47.52West Virginia+43.8+30.5+40.53Oklahoma+38.5+37.4+38.24Idaho+33.9+35.5+34.35North Dakota+37.8+23.5+34.26Kentucky+31.9+26.5+30.67South Dakota+31.9+21.9+29.48Alabama+29.8+26.0+28.99Arkansas+29.0+27.5+28.610Utah+20.0+51.7+27.911Tennessee+28.1+24.2+27.112Nebraska+27.1+25.6+26.813Kansas+22.5+25.4+23.214Louisiana+21.7+21.1+21.615Montana+22.3+17.5+21.116Indiana+21.1+14.1+19.317Mississippi+19.9+15.4+18.818Missouri+20.6+13.2+18.819Alaska+16.8+17.8+17.120South Carolina+16.4+14.3+15.921Texas+11.1+19.6+13.222Georgia+7.2+11.7+8.323Iowa+11.5-2.0+8.124Ohio+10.2+0.9+7.825Arizona+5.6+12.9+7.4MEDIAN+6.626North Carolina+5.7+5.9+5.827Florida+3.3+3.0+3.228Pennsylvania+2.8-1.5+1.729Wisconsin+2.9-3.1+1.430New Hampshire+1.7-1.7+0.931Michigan+2.3-5.6+0.332Minnesota+0.6-3.8-0.533Nevada-0.3-2.8-1.034Virginia-3.2-0.0-2.435Colorado-2.8-1.5-2.536Maine-0.9-11.4-3.537New Mexico-6.1-6.3-6.238Oregon-8.9-8.2-8.739Delaware-9.3-14.8-10.740Connecticut-11.5-13.5-12.041New Jersey-11.9-13.9-12.442Washington-13.6-10.9-12.943Illinois-14.8-13.0-14.344Rhode Island-13.4-23.6-16.045New York-20.4-24.3-21.446Massachusetts-25.1-19.3-23.747Maryland-24.3-22.2-23.848California-27.9-19.2-25.749Vermont-24.3-31.7-26.250Hawaii-30.1-38.8-32.3* Based on a combination of 75 percent 2016 and 25 percent 2012. This is a simplified version of how FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean index is calculated.

The median falls in between Arizona and North Carolina, which are, on average, 6.6 percentage points more Republican than the country as a whole. Democrats can compete in these states and are doing so this year, but they’re doing so in an overall political environment which leans Democratic by 6 to 7 percentage points based on the generic congressional ballot and national polls of the presidential race.

In a strong national environment for Democrats, in other words, the Senate can be competitive. Generally speaking, at least. A Democratic-leaning environment wasn’t enough to overcome the Senate’s baseline GOP-lean and a bad map in 2018. Democrats lost seats. And in an average year — and certainly in a year like 2014 where Republicans have the advantage — Democrats face dire prospects in the Senate.

Indeed, despite their current 47-53 deficit in the Senate, Democratic senators actually represent slightly more people than Republicans. If you divide the U.S. population by which party represents it in the Senate — splitting credit 50-50 in the case of states such as Ohio that have one senator from each party — you wind up with 167 million Americans represented by Democratic senators and 160 million by Republicans.

Could the emerging electoral map — with states such as Texas, Arizona and Georgia becoming more purple — help Democrats in the Senate? Actually, while the shifting politics in those states could massively affect the Electoral College, they don’t help Democrats in the Senate that much because they still have only two senators each.4

Rather, what Democrats really need to negate their disadvantage in the Senate is to find some small-population states that move toward them. Other than Nevada, they haven’t really had any of these recently. (Montana and Alaska are probably the least-implausible candidates, although Montana’s presidential voting has actually been getting redder.) There’s also the chance that the small, predominantly white working-class states of New England — such as Maine, New Hampshire and even Rhode Island — could move against Democrats, which could make their Senate problems even worse, although Maine is polling strongly for Joe Biden this year.

Democrats could also consider adding states to the union. If both Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico became solidly Democratic states (not necessarily a safe assumption in the case of Puerto Rico), the Senate’s Republican lean would be reduced from 6.6 points to 4.5 points. If D.C. and Puerto Rico joined and California were split into three states that ranged from Democratic-leaning to solidly blue, it would deplete further to 2.5 points. But that also goes to show you how robust the Republicans’ advantage is. You could add four Democartic states (D.C., Puerto Rico, California/A and California/B) and the Senate would still have a slight Republican tilt.

Obviously, political coalitions can change over time. Maybe you’re reading this article in 2036 and it seems incredibly silly because Mormons have become a super Democratic group and Montana, Utah and Idaho are all blue states … who knows. But for the time being, the Senate is effectively 6 to 7 percentage points redder than the country as a whole, which means that Democrats are likely to win it only in the event of a near-landslide in their favor nationally. That’s likely to make the Republican majority on the Supreme Court pretty durable.


Politics Podcast: How A Supreme Court Vacancy Will Forming The Election

>By Galen Druke, Nate Silver, Sarah Frostenson and Micah Cohen, Galen Druke, Nate Silver, Sarah Frostenson and Micah Cohen, Galen Druke, Nate Silver, Sarah Frostenson and Micah Cohen and Galen Druke, Nate Silver, Sarah Frostenson and Micah Cohen
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In this emergency installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew discusses Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death and how the political fight over the court’s new vacancy might unfold.

Emergency Podcast: The SCOTUS vacancy | FiveThirtyEight

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen

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How The Post Office Became A Political Football.

Graphics by Elena Mejía


The post office can’t catch a break. Over the summer, operational changes implemented by the U.S. Postal Service’s new postmaster general raised concerns about mail delays. This prompted congressional investigations, lawsuits, a lot of political rhetoric, and even more public worry about whether the disruptions pose a threat to what will likely be the most mail-reliant election in history.

But the Postal Service isn’t struggling merely because of one new postmaster general’s changes — decades of events out of its control have positioned the agency to be particularly vulnerable when crisis struck.

2020 has seen little but crisis. COVID-19 changed a lot of things about everyday life, including how Americans use the post office. Between March and July, the volume of first-class mail like letters, bills and legal documents dropped off a cliff as businesses sought to cut expenses. At the same time, people isolating at home started ordering necessities (and non-necessities) online at a staggering rate. While overall mail volume was lower during the spring and summer compared to the same time last year, the volume of packages surged. In June, 71 percent more packaging was sent than in the year prior.

“We are at holiday levels of mail,” said one mailcarrier, who asked not to be named because USPS employees have been advised not to speak to the media. “Everybody is stuck at home and they’re ordering online, either because they can’t leave the house or the local merchant isn’t open. I personally deliver several hundred Amazon packages a day.”

That was the state of the USPS right as its new postmaster general started implementing sweeping changes. But the Postal Service has been facing challenges for years, many of which stem from the idiosyncrasies of being one of the nation’s oldest institutions.

The USPS has come a long way since the early 20th century, but some of its founding principles remain.

Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Postal Service has existed in some form or another since 1775, and it has always played a role in politics. But it was not originally conceived as a business. Instead, its founders wanted to make an organization that could facilitate democracy, allowing constituents to communicate with and keep tabs on elected officials, according to Christy Pottroff, a literature professor at Boston College who researches the earliest days of the Postal Service. That means much of the original scaffolding of the institution — parts of which are still in place today — doesn’t jibe with more modern expectations for the service to turn a profit.

“If I wanted to send a letter to you in 1815, it would be super expensive,” Pottroff said “But if I wanted to forward a newspaper to you, it would be super cheap. [The Postal Service] was established as a system of spreading the news to as many people as quickly as possible, and communication with elected officials in D.C. It was, in the past, the only way that system of democracy could work.”

This mandate set up the expectation that the post office should serve every American, regardless of class or location. That foundation permeates to this day, even as the institution has faced new financial challenges: An American living in rural Alaska doesn’t have to pay more to send a postcard than someone living in downtown Manhattan. This differs from a private business, which has no obligation to deliver packages to places that aren’t worth the cost of transportation.

But the modern era has complicated the post office’s lofty ideals. In 1970, following widespread wildcat strikes demanding better pay and safer working conditions, the post office was transformed. In exchange for employees’ right to collectively bargain, Congress passed an act that changed the post office from a publicly funded cabinet department to a self-funded, independent agency. Basically, the post office had to function less like a public service and more like a private business, but still uphold its public service obligations — like being beholden to requirements set by Congress and having to serve every American. This worked all right for a few decades, but then the internet happened.

The USPS has a monopoly on sending or carrying flat envelope mail, also known as first-class mail, and on delivering items to physical mailboxes. (It’s actually illegal to slide something through a mailslot if it’s not a piece of paid USPS mail.) This was great for the Postal Service until the internet made handwritten letters, invitations, physical bills, checks, bank statements, etc., all but obsolete. Since its peak in 2001, first-class mail has declined precipitously. That year, more than 103 billion pieces of first-class mail were delivered by the Postal Service. In 2019, that number had dropped to just under 55 billion. This drop in first-class and advertising mail, historically the biggest revenue earners, has hurt the agency’s ability to generate funds.

“That market has gone into a kind of death spiral, and it’s not coming back,” said Richard John, a professor of history at Columbia University and the author of “Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse.”

Right around the time the internet was eroding the post office’s historical cash cow, Congress enacted a new rule that has caused significant financial hardship for the agency. Unlike any other single federal agency, the post office has since 2006 been required to set aside billions of dollars every year to cover health benefits for future retired employees. These payments amount to about $5 billion a year, but the USPS hasn’t been able to make any payments since 2011, causing the burden to snowball — the agency is now behind on $119.3 billion in payments for the prefunding requirement.

But the internet did come with a silver lining: online shopping. While first-class mail has dropped, the growth of online retailers like Amazon has provided a new opportunity for the Postal Service. It doesn’t have a monopoly over package delivery like it does with letters, so it has to compete with private shippers like UPS and FedEx. But it does have a centuries-old network that reaches every resident in the country. This allows the USPS to negotiate contracts with shippers and retailers to provide last-mile service: delivering packages to addresses that wouldn’t be worth a FedEx trip, but that the post office has to visit anyway.

That last-mile service has helped prop up the agency. A 2018 report from a Trump task force found that from 2013 through 2018, the USPS earned enough revenue to cover its costs … if you don’t include the prefunding requirement.

In 2017, for example, the USPS generated $69.7 billion in total revenue, enough to cover its operating expenses of $68.2 billion, but not to cover the roughly $5 billion in retiree benefits contributions it should have made that year, or chip away at the debt created by not making those payments for most of the decade. As a result, at the end of the 2017 fiscal year, the USPS reported a net loss of $2.7 billion.

That’s why Trump’s claims that the Postal Service is losing money because of last-mile delivery don’t hold water.1 But it does emphasize how crippling that prefunding requirement has been for the service. And that has left it open to criticism that it needs to reform its operations in order to be steady going forward.

Packages have helped keep the USPS afloat, even as President Trump has complained about package rates.

Alexi Rosenfeld / Getty Images

Enter Louis DeJoy. More than a decade of financial losses and a shifting marketplace provided the perfect setting for a new postmaster general with a successful career in the private sector to start overhauling the system in the name of efficiency and innovation. And when you mix DeJoy’s interest in overhauling the agency’s policies with a global pandemic and a looming election, you’ve got the perfect recipe for turning the country’s most popular government institution into a political lightning rod.

“Right now, at this moment, there are really strange forces converging to screw everything up,” said Richard Kielbowicz, a communications professor at the University of Washington. “Losing first-class mail, where the postal service made most of its money, has been a problem for the last 25 years. But that’s in the background and complicating it is this requirement to prepay retirement benefits, and then on top of that you add that Trump doesn’t like Amazon, and then layered on top of all of that is voting by mail.”

The Postal Service’s increasing dependence on package delivery to earn revenue makes it a prime target for Trump. He already threatened to withhold federal pandemic aid unless the USPS quadrupled the rates it charges for last-mile delivery, a proposition that could make it impossible for the post office to compete. If the USPS didn’t offer competitive rates for that delivery, it wouldn’t take long for other delivery companies — or Amazon itself, which already provides its own door-to-door delivery in many areas — to take over all but the most remote deliveries. These very tensions came to light in a trove of internal USPS documents made public last week.

In the short term, the worst-case scenario will be that the mail is slightly delayed, though not to the point that a vote-by-mail election is rendered impossible (this is why experts recommend requesting and returning your ballot as early as possible). A federal judge has blocked the changes DeJoy implemented that slowed the mail. But even if that injunction gets thrown out by the Supreme Court, some delays shouldn’t prevent a mail-in election from otherwise running smoothly. In fact, in a legal brief filed in response to a lawsuit seeking a court order to guarantee sufficient funding for the general election, the Postal Service pointed out that “… even if every registered voter in the United States used a mail-in ballot in the 2020 Election, those ballots would represent only a fraction of the total mailpieces that the USPS processes each day, on average, and would pale in comparison to spikes in mail volume that the USPS handles every winter holiday season.”

But long term, the weaknesses of the Postal Service will remain, regardless of who wins the election. Even if there’s a new president in the White House next year, the USPS will face the same shaky ground it did at the beginning of the year. If you care about the post office now, you’ll likely need to keep caring about it for months — or years — to come.