Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The 2020 presidential election features a pared-back pool of undecided voters after four years of a highly controversial and media-saturated presidency.

Why it matters: Entrenched views mean there's less reason for campaigns to try to change voters' minds than to convince those already with them to vote — and help educate them about mail-in and early-vote procedures to make sure their votes count.

A wealth of evidence suggests more Americans have made up their minds by this point compared with years past:

  • The conventions had practically no impact on the shape of the race: Biden's national polling lead (+7.5 per FiveThirtyEight's average of polls) is just a half-point smaller than it was a month ago.
  • Just 3% of likely voters said they didn't know who they'd vote for in a recent national Quinnipiac poll. The same percent of registered voters said they were undecided in a Monmouth poll this week.
  • An August poll by the Pew Research Center found that among those who preferred Biden or Trump, just 5% said there was a chance they'd change their minds.
  • Compare that to Pew's poll in August 2016, which found that 8% of Hillary Clinton's supporters said there was a chance they might vote for Trump. Similarly, for those who preferred Trump, 8% said they might vote for Clinton.
  • Even in the swingiest of swing states, most people's minds appear made up. Just 5% of Floridians say they might change their minds, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll.

The big picture: Trump's approval rating has held remarkably steady in the low 40s despite his impeachment, a pandemic, a trade war, rule-of-law crises, an endless barrage of damaging reporting and national reckonings on sexual assault, guns, immigration and race.

Between the lines: "There were Republicans who were undecided in 2016 but ultimately rallied to Trump. This year, they're likely on board. And, if not, they jumped ship a while back," John Sides, a political science professor at Vanderbilt who studies political behavior, tells Axios.

  • "Similarly, Biden is a more popular figure than Clinton was. So there are likely fewer Democrats who are undecided this year compared to 2016."

Yes, but: Despite the entrenched opinion, there are reasons the election outcome is still uncertain.

  • While the polls tell a consistent story, we don't know how accurate they will be this year.
  • For the ballots to count, voters in each state need to understand mail-in procedures and deadlines if they don't want to vote in person — and higher rejection rates for improperly cast mail-in ballots mean more potential for uncounted votes.
  • Additionally, the risk of an overwhelmed and under-supported U.S. Postal Service could impact results.
  • U.S. election systems have never dealt with anything close to the level of expected mail-in votes.

The bottom line: These uncertainties mean the truly undecided voters who remain — as few as they may be — could still tip election results.

Go deeper

Democrats' mail voting pivot

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Democrats spent the early months of the coronavirus pandemic urging their base to vote absentee. But as threats of U.S. Postal Service delays, Team Trump litigation and higher ballot rejection rates become clearer, many are pivoting to promote more in-person voting as well.

Why it matters: Democrats are exponentially more likely to vote by mail than Republicans this year — and if enough mail-in ballots are lost, rejected on a technicality or undercounted, it could change the outcome of the presidential election or other key races.

The Biden blowout scenario

Joe Biden speaks at an outdoor Black Economic Summit in Charlotte yesterday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Joe Biden or President Trump could win the election narrowly — but only one in a popular and electoral vote blowout. 

Why it matters: A Biden blowout would mean a Democratic Senate, a bigger Democratic House and a huge political and policy shift nationwide.

Updated 14 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Pennsylvania's "naked ballots" are 2020's hanging chads

A stack of mail-in ballot applications in Pennsylvania. Photo: Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

Pennsylvania's Supreme Court ordered state officials last week to throw out mail-in ballots submitted without a required inner "secrecy" envelope in November's election, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

The state of play: The decision went under the radar alongside the simultaneous decision to extend the time that mail-in ballots could be counted, but Philadelphia's top elections official warned state legislators this week that throwing out so-called "naked ballots" could bring "electoral chaos" to the state and cause "tens of thousands of votes" to be thrown out — potentially tipping the presidential election.