It’s common in election season writing to talk about the “days until election day.” If a candidate is trailing in the polls, articles will discuss whether they can turn things around in the XX days until election day.
There’s a good piece at Politico today in the genre, describing how Trump is running out of time to change swing voter perceptions about him, and that it may already be too late. This is true: perceptions about Trump (and, to a certain degree, Clinton) are so hardened that absent some major event it would take many more months than remain to shift them.
But those of us who work in campaigns know that Election Day is far sooner than most people think. In most of the United States, early and absentee voting begins at least a month before election day, and the number of Americans voting early is rapidly increasing. In California alone, 5 million Americans are likely to vote by mail this year–and most of those will do so weeks before November.
Frustratingly, early voting has not yet come to certain major swing states like Virginia, New Hampshire, Missouri and Pennsylvania. But other states that do have vote-by-mail and early voting include Florida, Nevada, Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio. Colorado, Oregon and Washington run entirely vote-by-mail elections.
Republicans have been trying to restrict access to early voting as part of their general voter suppression. But these strictures mostly affect in-person early voting. The number of vote-by-mail households increases every year, shortening the election year.
In California elections, we have a mantra that Election Day begins the first week in October because a huge wave of voters fill out their ballot in the first week after receiving their mail-in ballots a full month before the first Tuesday in November.
All of which is to say that Trump has far less time to turn things around than even standard analysis might suggest. In many swing states he will need to dramatically change the equation by mid-October, not early November.