Are America’s best days ahead?

How should I end this weekly
series of blog posts about the 2020 election that I began a year ago?

One way is to look at the latest polls. In the FiveThirtyEight collection of 113 polls taken since October 1, Joe Biden has polled at or above 50 percent in 81 of them. Trump has been at or above 45 percent in 16 of them. Aside from a few blips, the national polls have been remarkably stable. However, there has been more variation in the all-important state polls. Also of note: COVID will present challenges for the exit polling consortium. In a conversation with Joe Lenski who heads Edison Research, the company that conducts the exit poll, Doug Usher learned that the exit pollsters will use 226,080 disposable golf pencils for the voters who fill out their questionnaires so that they with not need to share pencils.

Instead of focusing on horse-race polling, however, I will end this series on a positive note. This election is the 59th time in our history that Americans have gone to the polls freely. It is a record unmatched anywhere else in the world. Many of these elections have been conducted in the most trying of circumstances, but we have persisted.

In the new Public Religion Research Institute survey, people were asked, “In general, do you think America’s best days are ahead of us or behind us?” In the September poll, 58 percent said America’s best days are ahead and 41 percent said the country’s best days are behind us. You might think that the positive response is an obvious one right now — could things be worse than they are with a pandemic and an economy struggling to recover? But the organization has asked the question four other times since 2012, and in only one of those questions were more people pessimistic than optimistic. And even then, the result was close: Half in that September 2016 poll said our best days are behind us, but almost as many, 48 percent, said America’s best days are ahead.

In the new poll, Democrats and Republicans were equally optimistic about America’s future (62 and 61 percent, respectively). It’s a nice thought on which to conclude the 2020 campaign.

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