The polls point to a Biden victory and experts are cautiously predicting that outcome – but it could be days before the world knows for sure who has won the momentous 2020 race for the White House.
Legal challenges to the huge volume of postal votes already cast could delay declaration of the result, and the incumbent, Donald Trump, has signalled that he will fight the process every step of the way.
Shops and buildings boarded up in New York, Washington and other US cities reflect the tensions in a divided nation fearful of civil unrest in the coming days.
Among those predicting victory for the Democratic candidate, former vice-president Joe Biden, is Australia’s Charles Croucher, a former US correspondent and co-host of Nine News’ election coverage.
“Circumstances, polling and just the timing all point towards a Joe Biden victory,” Croucher told Hatch.
He pointed to the trend, seen in state elections in Australia and the recent New Zealand election, for people to cast their vote based on the performance of their government in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“If (leaders) handle that well, they’re getting re-elected,” he said. “And I don’t think there is any objective way you can look at what’s happening in America and say that it has been handled well.”
The US election has been preceded by months of unrest over coronavirus restrictions, police brutality and the rushed confirmation of arch-conservative Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
Most polls predict that Biden will be sworn in as US President on 20 January. However, a new Des Moines Register/Selzer poll from likely Iowa voters has Trump leading his opponent by 4 per cent.
The result is likely to hinge on voting in key swing states, such as Pennsylvania and Florida.
“When you look at the polling that has happened this year, ever since effectively Joe Biden became the Democratic frontrunner, it hasn’t changed a whole lot,” said Croucher.
“In 2016, the polling fluctuated quite wildly between Trump and Clinton. This time … the polls have stayed consistent. with Biden seven or 10 points ahead. People are either not paying attention or have already made up their mind.”
The final outcome will be determined by the electoral college, the group of electors chosen by each state. In 2016, Clinton won the overall popular vote – but Trump ultimately triumphed.
As Croucher explained: “The candidates effectively build these collections of states that have been won, collecting all the delegates and all the electoral college votes, with the goal of reaching 270. That’s how you win.
“It’s a strange system. It’s unnecessarily complicated. But the best way to think of it is, these candidates are collecting states that have to add up to 270 electoral college votes.”
Trump’s unfounded accusations of voter fraud in relation to postal ballots, and refusal to commit himself to a peaceful transition of power, have raised concerns among many observers.
Croucher called the notion that Trump could declare himself the victor by the end of today, with many votes still to be counted, “ridiculous”.
“It would be like NSW State of Origin coach Brad Fittler declaring the game over if NSW go up 6-0. That’s not the way it works. There are still rules. Rules that haven’t been tested, though.
“I suspect if the result is clearcut for a Biden win, there are enough people in the Republican Party that would go to the President’s office, knock on his door and tell him it’s over.”