A flood of heavily Democratic ballots has already streamed into election offices around the country during the weeks of early voting. But the presidency could turn on in-person voting today in several crucial states, with Republicans expected to outnumber Democrats going to the polls on Election Day.
Most surveys of battleground states show that President Trump is trailing Joseph R. Biden Jr. by narrow margins and has some ground to make up. If he beats Mr. Biden, pollsters at both the state and national level will have missed even more dramatically than in 2016.
In some states there are signs that the race has tightened, and in Iowa, an election-eve poll found Mr. Trump with a considerable lead. Still, while polling in many battlegrounds remains relatively close, Mr. Biden seems to be entering Election Day from a position of strength.
Here’s a look at the last major pre-election polls released in five swing states, with an eye toward what they say about the way the broader winds are blowing.
If the election comes down to one state, it will most likely be Pennsylvania, which Mr. Trump narrowly won four years ago.
Polls suggest the state may be more firmly in the Biden column than most of his big targets in the Sun Belt — but not as favorable to him as Wisconsin and Michigan, the other two Northern states that flipped Mr. Trump’s way in 2016.
Several pollsters canvassing likely voters in Pennsylvania over the past week found Mr. Biden ahead by five to seven percentage points: Morning Call/Muhlenberg College, NBC News/Marist College, Monmouth University, ABC News/The Washington Post and The New York Times/Siena College.
Were Mr. Biden to win Pennsylvania and hold onto the Upper Midwest, he could probably afford to lose other key states — Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas — and still capture the presidency. (Although possible, a Trump sweep of those states appears unlikely.)
If either candidate has momentum, it may be the president. Mr. Biden’s lead in Pennsylvania polling averages has steadily narrowed since mid-October. But the Democratic nominee’s political vitals look fairly good. According to the Times/Siena poll, his lead among state’s nonwhite voters is more than 50 percentage points, and he holds a considerable advantage among independents and a 22-point lead with white voters holding college degrees.
If Mr. Biden wins Florida, he may do so while proving that a Democrat can win the state without the resounding support of its large Hispanic population. The latest Times/Siena poll found him winning 55 percent of Florida’s Latino voters, and in a dead heat with Mr. Trump among Hispanic men. An NBC/Marist poll of Florida last week showed Mr. Biden falling below 50 percent among Hispanic voters.
But Mr. Biden has made up for his weakness among Latino voters with strong support from suburbanites, white women with college degrees and, in some parts of the state, older voters. In the Times/Siena poll, Mr. Biden was up by three points among all likely voters in the state, including a 10-point lead among political independents. (Marist gave him a four-point advantage among all likely voters.)
Mr. Trump’s fate will most likely depend on strong support from conservative senior enclaves like Sumter County, a boost from the conservative-leaning Cuban-American population and high turnout among his base of white working-class voters, particularly in smaller towns and rural areas.
This year is looking as if it could be the moment when Arizona flips to the Democrats for the first time this millennium. Mr. Trump’s rise has helped to speed up the phenomenon; two years ago, the backlash to his first term swept Kyrsten Sinema, the state’s Democratic senator, into office.
This year, polling suggests that Mark Kelly, an astronaut and Democratic Senate candidate, is on the verge of joining Ms. Sinema in Washington and ousting Senator Martha McSally.
Mr. Biden had consistently led in polls of the state for much of the race, and the final Times/Siena poll showed him up by six points. But other polls have found Arizona drifting back in Mr. Trump’s direction; an NBC/Marist poll out Monday showed a tied race.
Georgia is another state that could be on the verge of flipping from Republican to Democrat, and it has even bigger implications for the Senate. There are two seats open in the chamber, and in both cases the Democrat in the race is polling strongly. Both Senate races, however, could head to runoff elections in January if no candidate reaches 50 percent of the vote.
While Mr. Biden is leaning heavily on the support of the state’s large Black population, he has also eroded Mr. Trump’s backing among white voters, particularly those with college degrees. If he can break the 30-percent threshold among white voters, his chances of winning Georgia will improve.
A Monmouth poll last week found Mr. Biden meeting that target, pulling 31 percent of the state’s white voters, while holding a four-point advantage over Mr. Trump over all.
If there’s any poll that has shown tangible evidence of a late break toward Mr. Trump, it’s the Des Moines Register/Selzer & Company poll of Iowa, which is widely considered to be a gold standard. A Selzer survey released over the weekend found Mr. Trump opening up a seven-point lead among likely voters, after being tied with Mr. Biden in September.
The poll showed the president winning back the support of independents — a rarity for him in swing states this year — and cutting Mr. Biden’s lead among women in the heavily white state down to the single digits. The poll found that, even as coronavirus cases have spiked in the state recently, most Iowans do not consider the pandemic their No. 1 issue. The Selzer poll also found that Joni Ernst, the state’s Republican senator, was up four points on her Democratic challenger, Theresa Greenfield.
If Mr. Trump is going to win enough states to retain the presidency, he will need a lot more situations like this.