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Where The Presidential Race Stands Before The Last Debate

Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s Election Update for Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020! As President Trump and Joe Biden prepare to take the stage tonight for the final presidential debate, Trump has just a 12 in 100 chance of winning the presidency, while Biden has an 88 in 100 chance, according to our presidential forecast.1 And according to national polls, Biden leads Trump by an average of 9.9 percentage points.

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This is lower than Biden’s peak 10.7-point lead as of Monday, but still higher than his 7.1-point lead over Trump before their first debate on Sept. 29. In the last few days, national polls have tightened a bit, something our forecast was anticipating in the home stretch. But, to be clear, Biden is still well ahead overall in our forecast.

But of course, the national popular vote doesn’t pick the president — states do, via the Electoral College. And we got a flurry of state polls Wednesday that were still good for Biden. Take Pennsylvania, the state with the highest chance of deciding the election, according to our forecast’s tipping-point odds. Wednesday, no fewer than four high-quality polls of Pennsylvania were released. Biden garnered 50 percent support and Trump garnered 45 percent in a Fox News poll; Biden led by 6 points in a Suffolk University poll; Biden led by 8 points in a Quinnipiac University poll; and CNN/SSRS even put Biden ahead by 10 points among likely voters. Though these ran the gamut from being OK to great polls for Biden, together they were pretty well in line with other polls we’ve seen this month — in other words, Biden has a solid, though not insurmountable, lead in Pennsylvania.

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This is, however, still an improvement from where he stood before the first debate, when the winner of Pennsylvania was more uncertain. Since Sept. 29, Biden’s odds of winning Pennsylvania have increased from 79 in 100 to 87 in 100.

It’s a similar story in Florida, another important potential tipping point state; Trump has a less than 1 percent chance of winning the White House without it. Biden’s average lead in Florida polls is currently 3.8 points — not much lower than Biden’s October high of 4.5 points, achieved for a few days last week. And Wednesday, Reuters/Ipsos, CNN/SSRS and Civiqs/Daily Kos all released surveys of Florida that gave Biden either a 4- or 5-point lead among likely voters. These numbers are a bit better for Biden than they were before the last debate, when he led by an average of 2 points or less in the Sunshine State. That early-October increase brought his chances of winning Florida from about 3 in 5 to around 7 in 10, but that number has barely changed in the last couple weeks.

What’s more, states like Iowa, Ohio and Georgia all now have almost exactly 50-50 odds in our forecast. Take the several Iowa polls we got Wednesday: Emerson College found Trump and Biden tied at 48 percent; Siena College/The New York Times Upshot put Biden at 46 percent and Trump at 43 percent; and depending on the turnout model used, Monmouth University gave Biden either a 3- or 5-point lead among likely voters. With these polls, Biden actually improved his position in our Iowa polling average. He went from a 0.4-point lead on Monday to a 1.1-point lead currently — the opposite of the tightening we’ve seen elsewhere. And although our forecast doesn’t think Biden is favored to win Iowa, he does now have a 48 in 100 shot — the highest his odds have been all year. And that’s bad news for Republicans, since in worlds where Biden carries Iowa, he wins the presidency more than 99 percent of the time.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, two pollsters — Siena College/The New York Times Upshot and Morning Consult — both found Trump and Biden in a dead heat in Georgia this week. And appropriately enough, our forecast now finds that both Trump and Biden have exactly a 50 in 100 shot of carrying the Peach State.

According to Morning Consult, Biden also garnered 48 percent support and Trump 47 percent support in Texas, another fairly red state that is a must-win for Trump. And a Quinnipiac University poll of the Lone Star State released Wednesday found a tied race, although Quinnipiac has tended to have good results for Biden this year relative to other pollsters. Accordingly, our forecast is not yet convinced that Texas is a toss-up, although it’s not safely red by any means. Trump has just a 64 in 100 chance of winning.

I could go on, but you get the picture. Biden is still ahead in all the states he needs in order to win — and is a real threat to win some that would just be icing on the cake for him. Trump still has a path to victory, but he needs to turn things around in all of these states fast — and the debate could be his last opportunity to do so.


  1. As of 10 a.m. Eastern on Oct. 22.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior editor and senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.