History suggests, however, that the next two-and-a-half weeks until the first debate will be a crucial period. If President Donald Trump is unable to make up at least some ground, it could be very difficult for his campaign to end up on the winning side come November.
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.
Take a look at all the election cycles since 1972. Specifically, look at where the national polling averages stood 35 days before the election (i.e. the day of the first 2020 general debate). The polls have been surprisingly predictive.
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.
Most of the major shifts that we see in campaigns have already occurred by the late September-early October timeframe. Michael Dukakis’ big summer lead had become a George H.W. Bush advantage by this point in the 1988 campaign. Jimmy Carter’s tremendous advantage over Gerald Ford in 1976 from the summer of 1976 had been whittled to just a few points, even before their first debate in late September.