I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.
Today’s read: 10 minutes.
The final election predictions from the pundits. Plus, instead of reader question, some reader feedback I wanted to share.
Joe Biden and Barack Obama greet each other at a campaign event in Pennsylvania. The former president has joined the campaign trail in recent weeks. Photo: Joe Biden campaign
Last Thursday, I included commentary from Michael Gerson in The Washington Post under “What the left is saying.” As a couple of readers pointed out, Gerson is traditionally known as a conservative thinker, though he has been critical of President Trump. His piece, though very representative of the left’s thinking, could have been used as a good opportunity to show some common ground between the right and left rather than simply dropping him into “What the left is saying.”
Similarly, in “my take,” I noted that many of the most popular YouTube political pundits were “very conservative to far-right.” Among the names I listed was Philip DeFranco. Several readers objected to me describing him in this range, and after further inspection, I think their objections are fair. I hadn’t watched DeFranco’s videos in years, but last time I was dialed into his commentary he was a small-government Libertarian fighting for Gary Johnson to get elected. It appears he’s moved pretty center or even left in the last few years, and that change should be noted.
This weekend, I was working on the first-ever Tangle podcast. I had planned to release it today when, around midnight last night, I had one of the worst all-time tech failures of my entire life and lost a nearly finished episode after about eight hours of work. Thankfully, I did not throw my laptop out the window, and the upside is that I taught myself how to edit audio over the weekend, so I’m ready to rip it today right after you get this newsletter. Plus, you’ll get my final update as close to Election Day as possible, on Election Day morning!
So keep an eye out for the podcast episode tomorrow instead of your standard Tangle newsletter. You can listen to it while you go vote or enjoy your lunch. It will contain my closing thoughts on the election: the last batch of polls, the early voting signals, the things I’ll be watching on election night, the possible scenarios where President Trump wins, how voter suppression could play a role, some final thoughts on my home state of Pennsylvania, my last update on the critical Senate races, my electoral college predictions and what to expect in the hours and days following Election Day. It should be fun!
Over the last week, an average of 82,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported per day in the U.S., an all-time high. In Europe, England is entering a one-month lockdown after cases surged across the continent and the U.K.
U.S. Special Forces rescued an American citizen in Nigeria who was taken hostage earlier this week. Local newspapers say the man rescued was a male missionary, and SEAL Team 6 killed six of the seven captors during the operation.
The FBI is investigating an incident in Texas where a group of Trump supporters surrounded a Biden campaign bus on a highway in Texas with their vehicles and slowed the bus down. One minor collision occurred and Democrats canceled three campaign events in Texas. A caravan of Trump supporters also stopped traffic on the Gov. Mario Cuomo Bridge in New York. In New Jersey, another caravan of Trump supporters blocked traffic on the Garden State Parkway. In McLean, Virginia, a group of Trump supporters congregated in protest outside Attorney General William Barr’s house.
New Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett will hear her first arguments today. The two cases on the docket are relatively low-profile, according to the AP. They include a Freedom of Information Act dispute and a disability benefits case for railroad employees. But later this week, the court will hear cases involving lifetime sentencing of minors and LGBTQ rights. Next week brings the case that could threaten the Affordable Care Act.
Axios’ Jonathan Swan has reported that President Trump is planning to declare victory Tuesday night if he is ahead in the voting returns. Because of heavy mail-in voting, and Democrats voting by mail at a higher rate, some swing states are expecting Trump to jump out to an early lead on Tuesday. This is also why a full count of votes is not expected until after Election Day.
What D.C. is talking about.
The election outcome. As of Monday morning, FiveThirtyEight is giving Joe Biden an 89% chance to win, and the RealClearPolitics polling average has Biden up on Trump by 7.2% points nationally. In the battleground states, Biden is up 3.3%, according to the RCP average. More than 95 million Americans have already voted, according to John Couvillon.
Compared to 2016, Trump is in a considerably worse position — at least in the polls. Against Hillary Clinton, Trump trailed by 2.8% in the FiveThirtyEight polling averages 45-42.2, with much of the country undecided. This year, he’s trailing 51.9% to 43.5%, or by 8.4% heading into Election Day, with far fewer voters undecided.
Still, Trump’s campaign and his supporters are optimistic. The president outperformed many of the state polls and most election models in 2016, which gave him pretty poor odds, and it was just enough to win. As he’s touring the country’s battleground states, he is still drawing massive crowds at his rallies and lots of media coverage, two things that were keys to his success in 2016. As the final days of the campaign arrive, both President Trump and former vice president Joe Biden are expected to be campaigning across the battleground state of Pennsylvania.
What the left is saying.
They’re seeing opportunities for a big win. CNN’s Harry Enten said Trump will “need a wider polling miss this year than in 2016 to win a second term in office.”
“To be clear, I'm not saying Trump can't win,” he wrote. “No analyst worth their grain would say that. It would be silly, however, not to acknowledge what should be obvious: Trump is in a considerably worse position heading into Election Day than he was in 2016… Biden leads in all the states Hillary Clinton won in 2016 by more than 5 points. He is also ahead in a bunch of contests that Trump won in 2016. These include (in order of descending Biden edges): Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Maine's 2nd Congressional District, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia and Iowa.” Enten also noted that “Biden's ahead by 9 to 10 points nationally. Clinton was up by 3 to 4 points in the final polls of 2016 and took the popular vote by 2 points, a small error.”
In The New York Times, Robert Leonard — who wrote the book “Deep Midwest: Midwestern Explorations” — argued that “Iowa is in play.” Donald Trump won Iowa by nine points in 2016 and if he lost there, he’d likely be facing a landslide defeat across the country.
“To many voters here, Mr. Biden is seen as someone who wants to govern; Mr. Trump is seen as someone who wants to perform,” Leonard wrote, citing the devastation of COVID-19 and a derecho that hit Iowa this summer. “The trade war ruined relationships that had been generations in the making. Mr. Trump also granted waivers to big oil companies from biofuel requirements, which undermined the ethanol market — something of a political third rail in Iowa. That, combined with lower fuel demand as a result of the coronavirus and the trade war, has caused plants to close and job cuts. Farm debt is expected to rise 4 percent, farm bankruptcies continue to rise, and farm organizations post suicide hotline numbers. The president’s trade and farm-policy failures may have also hurt Joni Ernst, an incumbent senator in a tight race with a Democratic challenger, Theresa Greenfield.”
The New York Times editorial board hit Trump and Republicans for trying to limit the number of ballots counted across the country, asking “Why are Republicans so afraid of voters?”
“This year, in the face of the unprecedented hurdles to voting introduced by the coronavirus pandemic, Republicans are battling from coast to coast to ensure that casting a ballot is as hard as it can be,” the board wrote. “In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott mandated a single ballot drop-box per county — including the increasingly Democratic Harris County, population 4.7 million. Republican lawmakers there are also suing to throw out more than 100,000 ballots cast by Harris County voters from their cars, at drive-through sites. In Nevada, the Trump campaign and the state Republican Party have sued to stop counting mail-in ballots until observers can more closely monitor the signature-matching process. In Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin, Republicans have fought to prevent the counting of all mail-in ballots that arrive after Election Day, even if they are postmarked on or before Nov. 3.”
What the right is saying.
For the most part, they’re optimistic Trump can defy the odds once again. In The New York Post, Michael Walsh wrote about “how the president can pull off another upset.”
“Trump’s path to 270, therefore, remains essentially the same: Hold what he already has and try to pick off a blue state or two while minimizing his own possible losses in Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin and Michigan,” he wrote. “Trump narrowly won Pennsylvania in 2016, and he’s likely to squeak by again — especially after Joe Biden’s ill-advised remark at the final debate that he wants to ‘transition’ away from fossil fuels, which directly threatens the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of workers in a place where fracking has revitalized the economy.
“Of greater concern is Florida, which went for Trump in ’16 by a mere 1.2 points,” Walsh said. “He’s been trailing in the polls there, but Trump’s popularity with Hispanic voters has been surging, so look for Florida to stay — barely — red. Minnesota, meanwhile, went for Clinton in 2016 by less than two points, and a long summer of urban violence in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police may lead to a 2020 law-and-order win here for Trump. The same is true of neighboring Wisconsin, where violence also flared in Kenosha. Rounding out the upper Midwest is Michigan, which Trump carried by a mere 0.23 percent last time. Current polls show a soft 8-point lead for Biden, so lightning just might strike twice there this year.”
In Fox News, David Bossie laid out a clear path for Trump to break the 270 electoral college threshold.
“President Trump has a clear path to 270 electoral votes and he’s busy earning each and every one of them,” he wrote. “I believe the president will carry Texas, Indiana and all the other reliably red states for his first 163 electoral votes. In 2016, his road to victory ran through Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Iowa. In 2020, this path remains intact, with the addition of Georgia and Arizona. With repeat victories in these states, plus the electoral votes in Maine and Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional Districts, that brings President Trump’s tally to 260 electoral votes — just 10 votes shy of the magic number of 270.”
“Pennsylvania has 20 electoral votes, Michigan has 16 and Wisconsin has 10,” he concluded. “In this scenario, with the president sitting at 260 electoral votes, he needs to win just one of these three states to prevail. The president is also on offense and actively campaigning in Minnesota, Nevada and New Hampshire — states he narrowly lost to Hillary Clinton in 2016. To put a fine point on it, he only lost these three states by approximately 74,000 votes combined.”
In The Wall Street Journal, the editorial board was less confident. “His policies and breaks from convention have accomplished much that was needed,” the board wrote. “But his divisive governance and personal flaws have put him in danger of losing to a Democrat whose campaign theme is essentially that he isn’t Donald Trump.
“Mr. Trump’s own chaotic governance has too often handed his enemies a sword,” the board said. “His narcissism made him think he could control FBI director James Comey, and his indulgent tweet about taping Mr. Comey triggered a special counsel. He is often reckless and makes needless enemies. He is not the only cause of America’s political divisions, but he has contributed to them. He has had four chiefs of staff, four national security advisers, and he often trashes good people as they depart… There’s no reason to think Mr. Trump’s governance would change in a second term. His disruption worked in 2016 against Hillary Clinton, but he has returned to the same playbook this year when the public is in a different frame of mind.”
As I’m fond of saying here, I’m not one to make political prognostications. But tomorrow, I’m going to go out on quite a few limbs in my first Tangle podcast, and you’re going to get a heavy dose of “my take” there, along with some personal anecdotes from my family (who are voting in Pennsylvania). I’m waiting as long as I can to send out my final election thoughts and predictions, in an effort to reduce the odds of having to eat crow, so you’re just going to have to wait until tomorrow’s first-ever Tangle podcast. What I will say now, as my little tease to keep you on the hook, is that I do have a fundamentally different view of how this race is going to go down than many of the other reporters, pollsters or pundits I’m reading.
Typically, this is where I answer a reader question. But there’s been some really terrific reader feedback I wanted to get into the newsletter, and since we’re just a day from the election, I figured it was now or never.
Several readers wrote in responding to Wendy from Austin, Texas, who wrote last Thursday about why she’d vote for Biden if he came out as pro-life. Michael from Vancouver, Canada, sent over perhaps one of the most thought-provoking notes of all. “As a Christian myself, I deeply appreciate her desire for Christian social justice, as it's something I seek to pursue in my life as well (and I also believe that abortion is morally wrong). But I wish to make two points in this response: that Wendy's reluctant support for Trump is a minority position for white Christians, and that believing abortion is morally wrong doesn't require you to vote for Trump.” Michael paraphrased a lot from this Holy Post op-ed, which was one of the most interesting reads on the topic I’ve ever seen. He also asked that, in the future, I specify the white Evangelical vote when discussing Evangelical voters, because “Black Christians (Evangelical or other types of Protestant) are extremely unsupportive of Trump.”
Ron from Pawley Islands, South Carolina said “I’m a never-Trumper but historically have voted mostly for Republicans, although I voted straight Democrat in 2020 (Lindsay Graham is one of my senators), I am becoming way more liberal as I age. I am pro-choice to the extent that I think that if you are a man (I am one) you should shut the hell up about the who, why and when women should be allowed to have an abortion in general. On top of that, I think that if men could get pregnant we would be able to get a legal abortion at the drive-thru at CVS.”
Bree from Baltimore wrote in and said: “As a trans woman, it has really bothered me that the total fixation around this Supreme Court nomination has been the narrow scope of abortion, and further, the entire election cycle has been entirely devoid of any mention at all about LGBTQ rights that have been on the chopping block for 4 years, have been one of the largest overall focuses in the Supreme Court as far as caseload, as well as one of the largest legislative focuses in terms of quantity of bills introduced across the country (over 200 over the last year alone). It really demonstrates the invisibility that we have as a community in the eyes of the majority.”
Finally, dozens of readers wrote in about my response to a reader question on third-party candidates and asked why I didn’t mention Ranked-Choice Voting. This is a good question. I think this was an instance where I forgot some people weren't reading Tangle 6 months ago. I wrote then about RCV (mixed feelings) and I should probably do a longer edition on it soon. The short answer is: RCV would be absolutely crucial to any third party candidate’s chances, and I should have at least referenced it. We’ll dive in more after the election.
A story that matters.
While mail-in voting and court battles have sparked concern over voter suppression in this election, one of the more likely chaotic scenarios is also one of the simplest: tech issues. According to Politico, problems with voting machines or websites crashing seem just as likely — if not more likely — to sow chaos on Election Day as some of the other major concerns. In Georgia, for instance, a controversial new touch screen voting machine is being used. In Pennsylvania, voting machines malfunctioned last year and several counties are using the same machines again this time around.
51-44. Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump in Pennsylvania amongst likely voters in a high turnout election, according to Monmouth.
50-44. Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump in Pennsylvania amongst likely voters in a low turnout election, according to Monmouth.
25 million. The number of people who have already voted in the election who didn’t vote in 2016.
+7. The polling margin Democrats have amongst voters who didn’t vote in the 2016 election but are voting now.
+12. Joe Biden’s lead in Pennsylvania amongst voters who didn’t vote in 2016 but are voting now, according to Siena College.
+6. Joe Biden’s lead in Florida, according to the latest Morning Consult poll.
+2.3%. Joe Biden’s lead in Florida, according to the FiveThirtyEight polling average.
8.97 million. The total number of votes already cast in Florida.
9.42 million. The total number of votes cast in Florida in 2016.
3 in 100. The odds Donald Trump wins the popular vote, according to FiveThirtyEight.
4 in 100. The odds that the election hinges on a recount, according to FiveThirtyEight.
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Have a nice day.
Astronaut Kate Rubins is aboard the International Space Station, but that didn’t stop her from voting. Rubins shared a photo of herself outside a makeshift voting booth where she cast a ballot in the 2020 election. Astronauts have been voting from space since 1997, when Texas lawmakers ruled that it was legal to vote off-planet. Harris County, which surrounds Houston and where many astronauts live, facilitates the process by uploading a secure electronic ballot to NASA's Johnson Space Center Mission Control Center. Astronauts then access the ballot from space, vote, and someone at Mission Control prints the vote out and sends it to the clerk’s office by mail.