You already know this: the US election promises to be chaotic, confusing and febrile. So the last thing you need while getting your head around the early results is to have to Google unfamiliar terminology.
Here is a handy guide to consult:
Red mirage: This could be significant and very worrying. Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to take coronavirus seriously and thus far more likely to avoid the crowds and vote by mail. It will take days or even weeks to tally these mail-in ballots. This means Donald Trump, thanks to Republicans doing almost all their voting in person, could hold big electoral college and popular vote leads on election night.
This is the scenario Josh Mendelsohn — chief executive of Michael Bloomberg’s data group Hawkfish — calls the “red mirage”.
“We are sounding an alarm and saying that this is a very real possibility: that the data is going to show on election night an incredible victory for Donald Trump,” he told Axios.
“When every legitimate vote is tallied and we get to that final day, which will be some day after election day, it will in fact show that what happened on election night was exactly that, a mirage.”
The fear — seemingly confirmed this morning — is that Trump and his allies will use this to attack the legitimacy of the process even more than he has.
Blue wall: As Guy Rundle pointed out last week, despite losing the popular vote Trump did not exactly scrape home in 2016. He won three distinct groups of states: Republican marginals in North Carolina, Missouri, Iowa, pure swing states like Ohio and Florida, and — most important — he smashed the “blue wall” load bearers of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. That’s what Biden really needs to claw back.
Operation warp speed: The highly problematic and politicised process of getting COVID-19 relief to the states.
The diploma divide: One of the obvious glaring errors in polling in 2016 was the lack of accounting for one very key lacuna: college-educated Americans are typically more likely to respond to surveys, and non-college-educated voters were more likely to vote Trump. In short, writes The Atlantic: “State pollsters made a huge, obvious mistake.” That to a large extent has been put right, and expect to hear more talk about the “diploma divide”:
The good thing about huge, obvious mistakes is that they’re huge and obvious. Practically every high-quality state pollster acknowledged the non-college-educated-voter problem and committed to weighting their 2020 polls by education.
Voto Latino: Voto Latino is a group aimed at organising the growing (and potentially increasingly influential) Latinx demographic. The Democrats cannot flip Arizona without strong turnout from Latinx voters who make up nearly a quarter of the state’s eligible voters. Similarly, if Texas is going to be marginal this time, as some believe, Latinx voters will be key.
Trump’s catastrophic mishandling of the pandemic, attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and restrictions on immigration affect millions of Latinxs. But the group, of course, if not a monolith — there is a decent chunk of Latinos and Trump and his campaign have dedicated significant resources to winning over more of them.
Voter suppression: The other Republican tactic in Texas is a little more old-fashioned: voter suppression, explicitly along racial lines. On October 1 Republican governor Greg Abbott ordered counties to close drop-off sites for absentee votes until each had only one.
This meant, to pick one example, all 4.7 million residents of Harris County — comprising 16% of the state’s population and 70% non-white — will have to line up at the same drop-box to cast an absentee vote in person.
However, on Sunday the Texas Supreme Court rejected a request by Republican activists and candidates to pre-emptively throw out 127,000 ballots from drive-through voting. On Monday the federal court held an emergency hearing on a similar lawsuit filed by Republican plaintiffs and came (reluctantly) to the same conclusion.
This is just one example of many. There was also Donald Trump Jr’s call for an unsanctioned “Trump army” to prevent “the radical left” from “stealing the election” which saw a surge in voter intimidation.
Bubbling away in the background has been attacks on the US Postal Service in an election uniquely requiring mail-in ballots. Trump has never stopped arguing they will lead to widespread fraud and has explicitly admitted he blocked emergency federal funds to the USPS to make it harder for people to do it.
The postmaster-general is currently Republican mega-donor Louis DeJoy.