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The election appears to be slipping away from Trump in Pennsylvania

With time running short and voting already underway, evidence continues to mount that Trump is in trouble in a critical swing state.

President Donald Trump stands on the Truman Balcony after returning to the White House from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday.
President Donald Trump stands on the Truman Balcony after returning to the White House from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday.Read moreWin McNamee / MCT

To cover how Pennsylvania is shaping the 2020 election, The Philadelphia Inquirer has launched a new email newsletter. Every Wednesday, you’ll get reporting from counties across the state, insight into issues that impact you, fact checks on what candidates are saying, and more. You can sign up to get it in your inbox here. You can also view the web version of this email.

Happy Wednesday. While President Donald Trump says don’t let the coronavirus “dominate your lives,” cases are creeping back up in Pennsylvania less than a month before Election Day.

With Trump infected and off the campaign trail (for now), Biden was in Gettysburg yesterday, where he lamented that, ‘once again, we are a house divided.’ Mike Pence and Kamala Harris meet tonight for the vice presidential debate — with a plexiglass divider between them.

And we’ll talk about the latest polls of Pennsylvania voters. They’re not great news for Trump. But wait, weren’t the polls wrong last time? Sort of. Read on for more.

Follow all our election coverage. And email us at

— Julia Terruso, Andrew Seidman (

The race may be slipping away from Trump in Pa.

At the end of August, polls showed Biden with a relatively narrow lead over Trump in Pennsylvania. That was no surprise: Both parties have long expected a tight race in this critical battleground state. And of the three so-called Blue Wall states Trump won in 2016 — Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin — surveys suggested the Keystone State was the president’s best bet for a repeat.

But with time running short and voting already underway, evidence continues to mount that Trump is in trouble here. The latest sign was a Monmouth poll yesterday that found Biden leading by 11 percentage points among likely voters in a high turnout scenario, up from a narrow single-digit lead in the same survey a month ago.

The latest polls show Biden making gains across demographic groups, with a double-digit lead among seniors (who went for Trump in 2016), and he’s even moved into a statistical tie with white voters. Trump’s massive advantage with rural voters appears to have become only a very big advantage, something we explored in depth from Cambria County.

The bleak outlook for Trump comes as he recovers in the White House after contracting a virus he repeatedly downplayed. Once again unable to hold big rallies, he took to Twitter yesterday to dismiss the new surveys as “fake polls” and declared, “I will win Pennsylvania!” (There are some important differences between polls in 2016 and in 2020, more on that below.)

Biden, long mocked by Trump for wearing face masks and spending time in his basement, is ramping up his travel while Trump is in isolation. He swung through Michigan and Florida, then delivered a plea for national unity in Gettysburg. “I will embrace hope, not fear; peace, not violence; generosity, not greed; light, not darkness,” Biden said against the backdrop of the famous Civil War battlefield.

Pence, already a frequent visitor to Pennsylvania, will surely be back soon. But with Trump sidelined for now, and his campaign being outspent by huge margins on TV ads here, the Republican campaign is increasingly playing out in rhetorical and legal wrangling over the rules for how votes are cast and counted.

And Trump has put Philly squarely on the front lines of that fight. “Bad things happen in Philadelphia,” he said last week. Yesterday, his campaign took the same argument to a courtroom.

27 days left.

Answering your questions about voting

Am I eligible to vote?

To register in Pennsylvania, you must:

  1. Have been a United States citizen for at least 30 days before Election Day

  2. Be a resident of Pennsylvania (and your election district) for at least 30 days before Election Day

  3. Be at least 18 years old on Election Day

How do I register?

The quickest way is to use the Department of State’s online form. You can also fill out a paper application and either mail or hand-deliver it to your county elections office.

What’s the voter registration deadline?

You can register to vote until the end of the day October 19, which is 15 days before Election Day. We encourage you to register earlier if you can, which gives you more time to do things such as request a mail ballot and to address any problems that might come up.

Do I need a Pennsylvania driver’s license to register?

No. If you do have one, it will be connected to your registration so that, say, your driver’s license signature will be used as your voter registration signature. If you don’t have a driver’s license or state ID, you’ll be asked to use your social security number.

Read more: Everything you need to know about voting, by mail or in person

— Jonathan Lai (@Elaijuh)

What we’re paying attention to

Overheard on the campaign trail

“Trump has to win. Trump is holding the line as far as trade, the economy, the pandemic, all the riots.”

— Joseph Juretic, 69, a retired union electrical worker who lives in Johnstown

Let’s talk about polls

Biden enters the 2020 homestretch with a clear advantage — leads of low double-digits or high single-digits in the most high-rated polls, and a 6-point edge in the Real Clear Politics average of all surveys.

But Democrats still nervous after 2016 — and Republicans skeptical of the polls after what happened then — wonder if they can actually believe what they’re seeing. Here’s what you need to know.

The national polls in 2016 weren’t actually all that off. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, and her 2.1% margin of victory there was close to the 3% lead she had in the final surveys. The problem was with state-level polls, especially in states like Pennsylvania. Those problems, multiplied across multiple states, led to an Electoral College result that few saw coming.

State polls under-sampled voters who didn’t go to college. These voters make up a significant part of Trump’s base. And Pennsylvania is home to a disproportionate number of them. There were also things pollsters couldn’t control for, like the 1% to 2% of people who said they would vote for Clinton but then stayed home.

What’s different this time? More polls this year are asking respondents about their level of education — fixing the biggest problem from 2016. There are also far fewer undecided voters than there were in 2016, and no strong third-party candidate. Undecided voters make up as little as 1% or 2% of the electorate in Pennsylvania right now — instead of about 15% at this point in 2016. There’s simply less room for this race to change. Also, the 2016 polls were far more volatile. Despite a roller-coaster year, 2020 surveys have been remarkably stable. People’s opinions of Trump, positive or negative, seem fixed.

Another big difference? People in our line of work have learned to be more cautious in making predictions. And for good reason. Polls had Clinton up 10 points at this point in 2016. But remember: Polls are not predictions. They are a measurement of public opinion at one fixed point in time, a snapshot. Nothing more, nothing less.

Read more: Polling voters who won’t answer the phone, and other challenges of election math

Other resources

  1. Check your Pennsylvania voter registration []

  2. Everything you need to know about voting by mail in Pennsylvania [Philadelphia Inquirer video]

  3. All your questions about voting in Pennsylvania this year, answered [Philadelphia Inquirer]

  4. Upcoming events

  5. Vice presidential debate: Wednesday, Oct. 7

  6. Second presidential debate: Wednesday, Oct. 15

  7. Third presidential debate: Thursday, Oct. 22