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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

Updated Dec 15, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Electoral College affirms Biden's victory

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President-elect Biden officially received the majority of Electoral College votes on Monday, further solidifying his victory even though the outcome of the election has been known for weeks.

Why it matters: The Electoral College result affirms Biden as the next president after weeks of President Trump's false accusations that the election was stolen from him, dozens of failed legal challenges from the Trump campaign, and protests threatening the safety of states' electors.

Dec 14, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Early voting begins in Georgia's key Senate runoffs

Voters line outside the High Museum polling station in Atlanta, Georgia on the first day of voting in the state's Senate runoffs. Photo: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

People lined up outside polling places across Georgia on Monday for the first day of early voting in the state's two runoff elections that will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate.

The big picture: More than 1.2 million people have already requested mail-in absentee ballots and more than 260,000 have returned them as of Monday, per data compiled by the U.S. Elections Project.

Amy Harder, author of Generate
Nov 24, 2019 - Energy & Environment
What Matters 2020

What makes the 2020 election historic for climate change

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: J. Countess/Getty Images

Climate change is playing a larger — and more polarizing — role than ever before in a presidential election.

Why it matters: In the past, the topic barely registered with voters and candidates were less polarized. Today, all Democratic candidates are treating it as a crisis, with detailed plans and funding sources to address it, while President Trump ignores the problem and bashes those plans.