Welcome to today’s US election briefing for Australia.
News coverage of the election in this final two-week stretch is awash in polls, most of which suggest a Joe Biden victory is on the cards.
New polls out today showed Biden with a big lead in the critical swing state of Pennsylvania and neck-and-neck with Donald Trump in the usually reliably Republican state of Texas. Biden is up nine points nationwide, according to the New York Times, though his lead appears to have declined slightly in the last week.
But how reliable are polls? Polls assumed Hillary Clinton would win, she didn’t. They also assumed Bill Shorten would win, he didn’t. Are they right this time?
“Not so fast,” says Guardian US’ data editor Mona Chalabi. “I am personally deeply sceptical of polls, and I don’t necessarily think that all of the issues from 2016 have been neatly fixed. So I would issue a lot of caution with that.”
Chalabi was a rare voice of dissent in 2016, doubting the polls predicting a Clinton victory months before the election, raising particular concerns about the assumptions being made about “undecided voters”. She was proven correct.
Chalabi tells the Guardian’s Today in Focus podcast that while pollsters have learned some lessons from 2016, and many have adjusted their methodologies, she is nonetheless surprised at the confidence with which many are predicting a Biden win.
One problem, she points out, is pundits are still talking about polls as if they exist in a vacuum.
“We know that there are efforts at voter suppression underway. We also don’t fully understand how a global pandemic is going to affect voter behaviour,” she said, adding a spike in Covid infections in particular areas could affect whether and how people vote over the coming weeks. She’s also concerned about the potential for polls themselves to influence voter behaviour: motivating, or demotivating people in different ways.
All of which is to say: treat the polls with caution.
The big stories
Barack Obama returned to the campaign trail on Wednesday to deliver a scathing condemnation of his successor. Waving away the polls, Obama urged black men and young progressives in particular not to sit out this cycle.
Russia and Iran have obtained some US voting registration information and are attempting to sow unrest in the upcoming election, the government’s Trump-appointed national intelligence director claimed.
Lawyers are still struggling to find the parents of 545 children separated from them under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Two thirds of the parents have reportedly been deported.
Rudy Giuliani has hit out at Sacha Baron Cohen’s new Borat film, in which the Trump consigliere unknowingly participated, and was filmed reaching into his pants while reclining on a bed. A furious Giuliani said on Twitter he was just tucking in his shirt.
Donald Trump Jnr has emerged as his father’s political heir apparent, the quintessential “post-Republican Republican” as one critic puts it in this astute piece. “He is there only to engage in that performative dickery that is lib owning…”
Florida’s top election official is facing accusations of voter suppression after two last-minute moves critics say will lead to intimidation and confusion, including notifying election officials the state was beginning to flag voters for potential removal from the voter rolls if they owed money related to a felony conviction.
Quote of the day
“Can you imagine if I had a secret Chinese bank account when I was running for re-election? They would’ve called me Beijing Barry.”
Former President Barack Obama on an NYT report that Trump has a previously undisclosed bank account in China.
“Black Americans defending and criticising Ice Cube (who has been working with the Trump administration) both have valid concerns. Neither major political party is working for Black Americans economically,” writes Malaika Jabali. “Democrats have spent much of the past several decades working overtime to outflank Republicans on tough-on-crime policies, austerity politics, deregulation and privatisation.”
Video of the day
After winning the 2016 election, Trump promised to deliver new jobs and economic prosperity to Youngstown, Ohio, a city suffering from decades of decline. But four years on, those promises never manifested. Still, there are plenty of residents backing him.
Around the web
As this Slate piece argues, one of the stranger “gotchas” to emerge from the New York Post’s reporting of Hunter Biden’s purported private communications was based on text messages his father sent him while the younger Biden was in rehab. “Good morning my beautiful son, I miss you and I love you. Dad,” Joe Biden wrote, according to the unverified messages. Lock him up?
What the numbers say: 5 to 3
The split on the supreme court, blocking “curbside” voting in Alabama, which would have allowed people to vote in their cars – a move designed to allow disabled or those particularly concerned about contracting Covid. The case is the latest tussle over voting rights and methodologies.
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