But "Election Day" is a misnomer, suggesting a set time at which America will head to the polls. Our description of Election Day being 82 days away is correct in that Nov. 8 is the day most people will vote in the election — but millions will vote well in advance of that, some by absentee ballot and some at early voting stations. What that means is that the presidential campaigns (and every other candidate) needs to have its turnout operation up and ready within a month, not within two. And it means that Trump's consistent pokiness about setting up his field effort will be a problem sooner rather than later.
At Bloomberg, Sasha Issenberg (who knows this world well) reports that Hillary Clinton's campaign has oriented its operation in an unusual way, dividing its focus between states that vote early and those that don't, recognizing the very different ways in which the campaigns in those places differ. In 2012, a quarter of the votes cast were cast by early ballot, he notes. Michael McDonald, who tabulated that number, figures this year could top one-third.
There's another reason this is important: Those ballots are cast before the candidates are done campaigning. We often talk about what the election would look like if it were held today, which is misleading. But while early voting is happening, that matters: If Clinton is up by 5 points in early voting states until the last week of the election, when Trump closes the gap, that's a lot of votes that were already cast that favor Clinton.
To that end, we've created a tool that uses early vote dates from U.S. Vote Foundation to give a visual look at how the election is shaping up. Each day, the bars for each state will reflect either the current average of polls in the state (as tallied by RealClearPolitics) or the state's likely vote relative to current national polling. (See below for details on this.) As the bars approach and enter the early voting period, you'll be able to track where the advantage lies for either candidate. Mouse over the bars for daily data.
This is imperfect for a number of reasons including that 1) it doesn't include every form of early voting (like California's permanent absentee voting system), 2) early voting demographics don't usually represent the state as a whole and 3) not every place in every state begins early voting at the same time. (The boundaries above should be considered general guidelines.) But it should make clear that this election is beginning a lot sooner than you might think — and a lot sooner, it seems, than one of the candidates may realize.
Curious how the current polling might look on the electoral map? View our electoral map tool and click "Current polling."
How the national polling numbers are calculated: We take RCP's daily national average and then add or subtract the amount that each state differed from national results in 2012. Alabama was far more Republican than the country in 2012, so it is considered just as Republican relative to the national polling average here.