As of this morning, over 95 million votes have already been cast, about 70% of the total votes cast in the 2016 election, with expectations that it will reach over 100 million by election day morning.. Given that Trump has been bad-mouthing early voting, it is likely that it is his supporters who will dominate in the in-person voting numbers and those are the tallies that will be reported early in the counting process.
As is always the case, the last day before an election sees candidates in a frenzy of holding campaign rallies and advertising blitzes in an effort to sway those election day in-person voters. Today Trump is holding five rallies in four states (North Carolina, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan) and while Joe Biden is slightly less frenetic and going to just two states (Ohio and Pennsylvania). All these states were won by Trump in 2016.
It is not clear to me that this last minute campaigning has any significant effect. After the election is over, we see analyses about the way that independent and undecided voters ‘swung’ to one candidate or another at the very end but it is not clear how much of this is them being actually persuaded by these last minute efforts and how much that they had already decided (even if not willing to acknowledge it, sometimes even to themselves) and for some reason, were just waiting until the last minute to formalize what had already been decided.
I think that much of the impetus for these last minute efforts comes from the candidate and campaigns wanting to fire up the enthusiasm of their supporters but, even more importantly, to persuade themselves in the event that they lose that they had made ever possible effort, that they had ‘left it all on the field’, to use a commonly used phrase in sports that one hears after a close contest.
It reminds me of students who pull an all-nighter just before a big exam, trying to vacuum up every possible bit of information in case that it is asked. I never felt that such efforts are useful. In Sri Lanka as students we had many big exams that we had to study for that could make or break our academic futures. I made it a practice to study in a systematic way for them but at the very end, I would ease up, feeling that a good night’s sleep and being relaxed would more than compensate for any tiny bit of new knowledge that I might have gained by an all-nighter. I would sometimes even go and see a film the day before a big exam. Going into an exam tired and frazzled and desperately trying to remember random pieces of information just did not seem to me to be a good strategy. For me at least, that approach worked.
Last minute election campaigning is different of course in that election day itself does not require anything of the candidate and they can just unwind. So there is nothing lost except time, money, and energy in running all over the place the day before. But I think that it is unlikely that it will sway many votes. The die has already been cast.