SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
More than 1.5 million people have already voted in Wisconsin. Voters have cast nearly 8 million ballots in Florida, 9 million in Texas, more than the total number of votes for president there in 2016. We begin this hour with NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Happy Halloween, Scott.
SIMON: Ron, four years ago, the pollsters said it was going one way. It went another way. How do you read the polls now?
ELVING: With extreme caution, Scott. The 2016 polls were actually pretty good on the national numbers, well within the margin of error. But some of the key states were wrong and by more than the margin of error. Pollsters in those states are acutely aware of this history, and they've been looking long and hard at what happened. Among other things, there was a late break among the undecided four years ago, and it favored Donald Trump. There was also some falloff among Democrats that may have been due to complacency. That's a little less likely to happen this year. That said, this time around, it will probably take even more egregious error than we saw four years ago if President Trump is going to reverse the advantage that we now see for Democrat Joe Biden.
SIMON: And as we've gotten closer and closer to Election Day, the president has taken from diminishing the pandemic to really outright mocking it, even as coronavirus cases surge again to record heights.
ELVING: You know, it may be heartening to hear that message if you are someone who takes his cues straight from the president, directly from the president. We heard that from Donald Trump Jr. and Sr. this week. But let's say you're more inclined to trust other sources of information, such as perhaps the doctors who have been sidelined from the president's task force in recent months. In that case, it would seem just bizarre to claim that we're turning the corner or crushing the virus, two claims the president has made in recent days, when last week we set a new record for new cases at half a million a week. So even with a somewhat lower mortality rate, we're still producing frightening numbers of fatalities. And we seem to be headed toward 400,000 dead early in the new year just in this country.
SIMON: And it's only fair to wonder, Ron - isn't it? - that the president's dismissal of the pandemic - well, to ask, does it affect federal policy?
ELVING: You know, to be blunt, the COVID-19 task force - Dr. Fauci, Dr. Birx, some of the other people that we were hearing from back in the spring - seems to have been, let us say, dovetailed into the president's reelection effort, perhaps co-opted to some degree by the president's reelection effort. And maybe we shouldn't be surprised at this point, but the idea that information is being blocked or distorted for this purpose at this point in this pandemic is chilling.
SIMON: Joe Biden question - back in the primaries, he was flailing at one point, earned a reputation as a compromise candidate, not at the head of new movements. The candidacy obviously looks pretty strong now. He's run for office and won a lot of times. Is this at the same time mostly a referendum on President Trump?
ELVING: It is a referendum on Donald Trump, and that is just what you want if you're challenging a president. If the controversy is about the incumbent in the midst of difficult times, that gives the out party an obvious advantage. If there's more controversy about the challenger, the incumbent tends to win, which is why the president's campaign has been so busy trying to generate controversies about the Bidens.
SIMON: And let's finally remind our friends and listeners, we might not get the results Tuesday night, right? It might take several days, several weeks.
ELVING: Yes. Some of the Sunbelt states - Arizona, Florida, North Carolina - it's possible we might get results before we go to bed. But that's not a guarantee of anything. It's just possible. Otherwise, we're going to be waiting throughout the week, probably, for Pennsylvania and maybe also Michigan and Wisconsin to count their mountains of mailed-in ballots.
SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much for being with us.
ELVING: Thank you, Scott.
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