Or, perhaps, things won’t be that bad after all.
A national poll from Quinnipiac University published Wednesday afternoon presented new data on how Americans plan to vote and when they expect to learn the result. As has consistently been the case in Quinnipiac’s polling this year, former vice president Joe Biden holds a national lead over President Trump, with members of each party broadly supporting their party’s candidate.
The Quinnipiac poll also mirrors other polling in measuring how people plan to vote. About half say they’ll vote in person on Election Day; 6 in 10 say they’ll vote in person either on or before the election. A third plan to vote by mail or absentee ballot.
There’s an obvious partisan split there, with about half of Democrats planning to vote by mail and more than half of Republicans planning to vote in person. Quinnipiac’s results offer a stark example of how that will affect the vote-counting: Those planning to vote in person on Election Day prefer Trump by 22 points, while those planning to vote by mail prefer Biden by 42 points.
In other words, Trump may end the evening Nov. 3 with a lead, thanks to those in-person votes. But as the absentee votes are counted, that lead may fade, leading to a broad Biden win. Again: Quinnipiac has Biden winning by 10 points overall, even if votes cast on Election Day have him down by more than 20.
This is why things could get problematic. While this is one poll and doesn’t include consideration of absentee or early votes counted before or on Election Day itself, Trump will almost certainly declare that the results tallied that day should stand, as he has in the past. It will be incumbent, then, that the public broadly understand that the results counted at that point aren’t necessarily reflective of the eventual outcome.
The good news is that most people do. Only about 3 in 10 Americans think we’ll know who won the election on Nov. 3 itself. The large majority say we won’t — including Democrats and Republicans in equal measure.
There’s another bit of good news from Quinnipiac’s poll that might suggest a less contentious post-election period. Asked how upset they would be if their preferred candidate didn’t win, Republicans were more likely than Democrats to say they would only be somewhat upset.
Among stated supporters of Biden and Trump, Biden supporters were much more likely to say they would be very upset. Only 56 percent of Trump supporters held that position.
This can certainly change, particularly after a close race drenched with vituperative rhetoric. But it does serve as a potent reminder that Trump’s interest in prolonging the fight to preserve his power is almost certainly not shared as fervently among others, including Republican voters.
Of course it doesn’t take many people committed to Trump’s position — or many opposed to the incumbent — to make the aftermath of the election uncomfortable. That most Americans already understand that there will be a need for patience to determine who won the presidential contest, though, is clearly better than the alternative.