Is Donald Trump's presidency doomed?
With just three weeks to go until the United States election, that question is now squarely in focus.
The President's rival, Joe Biden, is getting a poll boost - just as the road is starting to run out for Trump.
The national polling trend, as mapped by RealClearPolitics.com, is telling.
On September 29 Biden was ahead on average by 6.1 per cent, 49.4 to Trump's 43.3 per cent. By today that had widened to a 10.2 per cent advantage, 51.8 to 41.6 per cent.
Trump's rallies don't seem to move the polls and the existing shifts aren't ones that significantly aid the president. He needs a change — but where's it going to come from? https://t.co/HQLKIj2vZH— Philip Bump (@pbump) October 12, 2020
The campaign graph lines recall the 2008 presidential campaign where Barack Obama broke away from his tussle with John McCain in September and never looked back.
The collapse of investment firm Lehman Brothers, which opened the door to an economic meltdown, changed the race in a fortnight.
On September 9, McCain was ahead by an average 2.4 per cent. As the disaster hit, the race became tied. When McCain briefly suspended his campaign and the first debate was held, Obama opened a 2.7 per cent lead. He went on to win by 7.6 per cent, 52.1 to 44.5 per cent.
Obama, despite his limited experience at that stage in Washington, was judged by many voters to be calm and steady in the crisis as McCain was erratic, at one point claiming that the economy's foundations were strong.
#Latest @TheEconomist Forecast:— Political Polls (@Politics_Polls) October 12, 2020
Chance of winning the electoral college:
Chance of winning the most votes:
Estimated electoral college votes:
The lesson, being repeated around the world this year, is that people want to feel confidence and trust in reliable leadership as the house crumbles and ground shakes around them.
Biden, on the ticket with Obama in 2008 and the veteran of multiple crises as vice-president, understands this. He appears to be closing the deal with voters the way Obama did 12 years ago.
A change from then is that a single disaster looks almost quaint compared to 2020's crisis overload in the US. A political scandal in the Trump era is something that explodes on a Monday and is forgotten about by Saturday because it is buried under fresh revelations.
America has suddenly recovered its entrepreneurial mojo in the midst of a pandemic. No other rich country is seeing a similar trend https://t.co/DOto7SNpht— The Economist (@TheEconomist) October 13, 2020
Trump's own crucial fortnight may have started on September 27, when a packed White House announcement on the Supreme Court vacancy became a superspreader event.
In the days that followed, Trump, his wife and senior Republicans tested positive for the virus, the President turned in a sledgehammer debate performance, went to hospital, and downplayed his illness on his return.
He torpedoed virus stimulus talks and then reversed course.
Today Trump resumed campaigning with supporters packed like sardines in an outdoors venue in Florida.
What a Biden Cabinet might look likehttps://t.co/sToXEUYghl— Chris Cillizza (@CillizzaCNN) October 13, 2020
Democrats are nervous about potential parallels with 2016 but there are numerous differences.
CNN reports that Biden is doing better than any challenger since 1936, this close to polling day - the first challenger to be above 50 per cent at this stage.
The RCP average across the six tightest states sees Biden leading by 4.8 points, 49.3 to 44.5 per cent.
His quickest route to 270 Electoral College votes is by winning back Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
He leads in all three as well as Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina. But he is also in with a shot at Ohio, Iowa, Georgia. In a true landslide election, even Texas could be in reach.
DDHQ/0ptimus Forecast Updates 10.12.2020— Decision Desk HQ (@DecisionDeskHQ) October 13, 2020
President: 84% (+3) Chance Biden Wins (30 new polls)
Big Mover: WI -2 to 23% chance for Trump
Senate: 84% (+3) chance Dems take control of Senate (7 new polls)
Big Mover: MT -5 to 64% chance for Daines (R)https://t.co/IRSc7PCGEn
Trump was helped by votes for third-party candidates in 2016, but a Pew Research Centre survey found that 49 per cent of such voters back Biden this time. Twenty-six per cent plan to support Trump.
At this stage four years ago an ABC News/Washington Post poll had the third-party vote at 7 per cent compared to 3 per cent in a new ABC/WP survey released yesterday. Trump's support is static between the two polls.
Biden is doing much better than Trump with women, new voters, white-collar workers, and independents. He is even performing well with the normally Republican-leaning over-65 age group.
Trump holds packed rally after Covid diagnosis as he struggles in polls https://t.co/7VASTQWma5— Guardian US (@GuardianUS) October 13, 2020
The Democrat's favourability ratings have improved during the campaign. Poll data shows he is a far less divisive figure than Hillary Clinton.
At this stage in 2016, a CNN poll showed Trump leading Clinton on who was considered more honest and trustworthy by 45 to 41 per cent. Now it is Biden in front by 58 to 33 per cent.
Clinton's national poll average lead peaked at about seven points in mid-October 2016 before dipping with the release of former FBI Director James Comey's letter on her emails. Just before the election it was three points, and she won the popular vote by 2 per cent while losing the EC.
This time Trump has struggled to get a grip on Biden and has flung vitriol at vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris instead, calling her "this monster".
But polls are indications of trends. Voter turnout will write the actual ending. Trump still has a chance at another victory through the EC.
Trump has enthusiastic support among his base, as evidenced by the non-social-distanced but big crowds at his rallies.
Any complacency amongst his opposition could see some percentage of the Biden coalition decide to sit it out rather than vote in a pandemic, although millions of people have already cast their ballots.
Former Trump voters could drift back to him, because of traditional tribalism or on the strength of late good news on the economy or vaccines.
Long lines today for early voting in the Republican-run state of Georgia, with people waiting hours, serve as an example that local decisions can make it difficult for people to make their choice. An order by the Republican governor of Texas closing dozens of mail ballot drop-off sites was halted by a court. Fake drop-off boxes have appeared in California.
Dave Wasserman: 10 bellwether counties show Trump is in serious trouble.— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) October 13, 2020
"Each one is in a battleground state. Votes from people there will matter a lot — and offer Joe Biden several paths to victory." https://t.co/kagxStqG0b
As people vote, Trump's Covid-19 infection has reangled the election narrative back to the President's least favourite subject. Biden is ahead by 17 points on who would best handle the pandemic in the ABC/WP poll.
It has also connected the dots between Trump's job on the coronavirus as President and his personal behaviour. Trump models the wrong behaviour and spreads the wrong messages on the virus, even after catching it himself.
He appears to be trying to project an adaptation of reality that shows life as more normal than it is. There's not much sign that voters are buying it, despite their longing for the pandemic to be over.