While debates are often seen as gamechangers, it’s often the period after the conventions are in the rearview mirror and before the debates when the political environment becomes clear.
There has just been about a 3 point difference between where the polling average stood 35 days before the election and the eventual result. To put that into context, there has been about a 2 point difference between the polling averages and the results on the final day of the election.
Let’s say Biden’s edge holds over the next few weeks. This means that even if there was the average shift in the polls over the final 35 days of the campaign and it occurred in the direction that benefitted Trump, he’d still likely lose. Trump needs a larger than average shift to end up winning on Election Day.
Of course, it’s possible the movement in the polls is away from Trump and toward Biden. In that case, Biden would blow Trump out.
Yet even including those years, you only see an average 4 point difference between the final results and the polling averages 35 days before the election.
Again, Biden would still be clearly up nationally and likely in the electoral college if you applied that movement in Trump’s direction to Biden’s current polling advantage.
None of this is to say that big shifts cannot happen in the final 35-day stretch. They definitely can. They’re just not all that common, especially in the last 50 years. And if it did happen, Trump would need that uncommon occurrence to be applied to his benefit.
Indeed, the debate period can sometimes obfuscate as much as it clarifies. Debate bounces often fade, and it’s the pre-debate polling that ends up being more predictive of the outcome.
Consider the last two election cycles.
The bottom line: Trump’s odds decline every day he isn’t closing the gap with Biden.