Theodore H. White captured JFK's election day 60 years ago. His The Making of the President 1960 was a breakthrough: the authoritative account from the inside. "It was invisible as always," he wrote of that fateful November day when, at its close, the torch would be passed to a new generation of Americans.
"They had begun to vote in the villages of New Hampshire at midnight as they always do ... The result would be the first flash of news on the wires to greet millions of voters as they opened their morning papers over coffee. But from then on it was unpredictable - invisible."
It's not like that anymore. Over 90 million Americans - an unprecedented number - have already voted before this November election day. The news is now online from infinite sources. But we will still get word from Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, on Tuesday afternoon here in Australia. Trump will carry the village.
What is surprising is that the fundamentals of this election have remained so steady since Joe Biden entered the race over 18 months ago with his call to bring the country back together again. He has led in every poll since. Trump's approval has remained exactly where it has been since taking office, in the low 40s. Trump gets high marks for the economy - but 60 per cent or more of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track.
Two years ago, voters wanted to put a check on Trump and send a message that how he conducts himself in office had to be constrained. This "blue wave" - led by 31 candidate who in 2018 won electorates Trump had carried in 2016, enabling Democrats to take control of the House of Representatives - is more than intact; Democrats will likely gain another five to 10 seats in Tuesday's election.
As much as Trump wants to make the election a choice between himself and a radical, socialist, anarchist, leftist, corrupt Joe Biden, that case has not stuck. This is instead a COVID-19 election, and a referendum on Trump.
The virus is now truly out of control in the United States, metastasising, with cases reaching 100,000 per day, 9 million having been infected so far, and deaths now over 230,000. This staggering loss of life is more than the toll from 70 September 11 attacks, or one such catastrophic loss every four days since the virus arrived in the United States.
The stock market is tanking again this election eve, with the slide in Trump's beloved Dow Jones a vote of no confidence in his management of the pandemic.
Trump's open rallies, with tens of thousands of people packed together, send shudders to many Americans across in the country, from Arizona to Florida, who see these gatherings and are afraid. And the President's son, Donald jnr, is simply insipid on national television when he says: "Why aren't they talking about deaths? Oh, oh, because the number is almost nothing because we've gotten control of this thing."
Underneath the headline polling numbers, where Biden is over 50 per cent and has maintained a clear lead of eight to 12 points over Trump, the real story lies in the shift in the underlying demographics.
Trump has lost support in several crucial groups of voters: women, men, white voters without a college degree, independent voters, seniors. Even where he remains ahead with the core of his base - such as white voters overall and white voters without a college degree - he has suffered significant defections. Biden is more popular than Hillary was with women. Independent voters, who so often decide the outcome, broke for Trump in 2016 but are for Biden now. Ditto with seniors.
Those shifts alone are far greater in scale than the margin Trump secured from his base to win Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin and take the presidency. This explains why Biden has kept his polling lead in almost all the swing states.
In these last days, there are hints that these tectonic changes may extend to Florida - which has broken the heart of Democrats (Al Gore in 2000) and Republicans (Mitt Romney in 2012) alike - and Texas, which has not voted Democratic since 1976. In Florida, there are signs that over 10 per cent of Republicans have pre-polled for Biden - double the 5 per cent of Republicans nationally who do not approve of Trump. In Texas, where more voters have already pre-polled than voted in 2016, a surge to Biden may be in the making. A Biden win in either means game over.
To be certain, as we can see from the enthusiastic crowds Trump gets as he commandeers Air Force One around the country, his ardent base loves him for appointing conservative judges, for taking on China, for standing always for gun rights and against abortion, for at least his efforts to "build the wall" and repeal Obamacare, and for trashing the establishment and kicking over the furniture in Washington.
There is zero flashy or charismatic about Joe. But in a COVID-19 world, Biden looks responsible. Biden has executed well. He crushed the field to win the nomination cleanly. He united the party and made a popular choice for his vice-presidential nominee. He has far outraised Trump in money and is flooding the media zone. He didn't get sick.
But, but, but ... 2016. The polls were so wrong. The impossible became history. Will it again?
This election eve, the election is not Biden's to lose, as he is not in a commanding position. But it is Biden's to win.
These are very tense days across America, and Australians and the world are watching anxiously. As the jazz great Miles Davis once said: "If you're not nervous, you're not paying attention."
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