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Prepare to Wait — We Might Not Know the Next President on Election Day

New polling data from Meeting Street Insights shows that the break-down of mail-in and in-person votes might delay final election results.

Americans have become accustomed to getting election results on Election Day. But polling data from Meeting Street Insights show there is a good possibility that the results of the election could be very different based on early voting, mail-in voting, and Election Day voting. This could lead to a scenario where the Election Day counts show Trump winning, only for Biden to win after all absentee votes are counted.

Signs Are Pointing to Record Voter Turnout

All signs are pointing to record voter turnout. This has been building for some time, even before COVID-19 and the death of George Floyd. 2018 had the highest voter turnout of a midterm election since 1914.

Voters Are Casting Their Ballots in Different Ways in 2020

According to our most recent poll, 44% of voters plan on voting using mail-in absentee ballots. That’s more than the 30% early in-person voting and 26% voting on Election Day.

Mail-in Voting Could Delay Results on Election Day

While many people are mailing their absentee ballots early, we know that at least some people will wait until much closer to Election Day. Let’s assume 10% of those who are mailing in their ballots wait until the last minute, and let’s assume each state votes exactly as they did in 2016.

If both of those things are true, then on Election Night, there would be 10 states where the number of late-arriving votes will be greater than the margin of victory: four that went for Clinton in 2016 (Nevada, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Maine) and six that went for Trump in 2016 (Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Florida).

Another complicating factor is that Trump voters and Biden voters report that they will be casting their votes in different ways. 74% of likely Trump voters reported that they are voting in person, compared to 44% of likely Biden voters.

If Biden wins by a significant margin or if Trump does as well or better than he did in 2016, then election results will likely be known on Election Day. 

But what happens if Biden does slightly better than Clinton? If Biden does one point better in each state than Clinton did in 2016, and Trump does one point worse than he did in 2016, Trump will look like the winner on Election Night. But absentee ballots in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin could swing the race over to Biden in the end.

Given this possibility, Americans might have to get used to the idea of an Election week or Election season rather than just Election Day. 

Meeting Street Insights conducted an online national survey of registered voters (N=800). The study was conducted September 21–24, 2020.

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