WASHINGTON — With one week until Election Day, Democratic nominee Joe Biden maintains a polling lead over President Donald Trump nationally and in key battleground states, but as Hillary Clinton learned four years ago, the only thing that matters is reaching 270 electoral votes.
More than 62 million people had already voted early as of Monday, either in-person or by mail, and the figure could reach more than 85 million before Election Day. Overall turnout might surpass 150 million.
Biden continues to lead national polls over Trump with more than 50% of the vote. Although it's gone from a double-digit advantage to single digits, the former vice president appears on track to win the popular vote like Clinton did four years ago – perhaps by a margin greater than the 2.1% net of Clinton.
Biden is also in better position than Clinton was in swing states – and could even win the race on or shortly after election night if his large leads hold – but pathways to a Trump victory remain.
David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, said "at this point in time," Biden is positioned as the likely winner.
"One week out, Biden looks like he's still maintaining his lead," Paleologos said. "He's losing it in the national polls a little bit, but he's holding where he needs to hold."
Here's where the race stands, how to interpret the electoral map and when we might learn the results.
Think of the battleground states in four groups:
Tier 1: The Big 3 Rust Belt states
States: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin
The simplest pathway for Biden to win the election is through Big Ten country, by winning three states that Trump won in 2016 by razor-thin margins: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Trump won each by less than 1 percentage point, a combined roughly 80,000 votes.
If Biden wins all three and carries each of the states that Clinton won, he's the next president.
Trump has to win at least one of the states – unless he pulls off major surprises elsewhere – to win re-election.
"The big dynamic to watch is the formerly 'blue wall' states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin," Paleologos said. "You've got almost a counter-trend going in those battlegrounds states where the average is going up for Biden. Trump has to break into one of those three states unless he can pick up a Clinton state from 2016, and that appears unlikely at this point."
Much of the action has centered on Pennsylvania, which both campaigns have increasingly seen as a tipping-point that could carry them to victory. Biden held a pair of campaign events in Pennsylvania over the weekend, including bellwether Luzerne County in Northeast Pennsylvania, a working-class county that Barack Obama won by 5 percentage points but Trump won by 19. Trump campaigned in Allentown, Lititz, and Martinsburg on Monday.
Of these three Rust Belt states, Pennsylvania has the most electoral votes, 20, and it's also where Trump has usually polled the best.
"That (Rust Belt) wall is really the first line of defense for Biden, and right now that looks pretty solid, but anything could change," Paleologos said.
Biden told reporters Monday he hopes to carry Pennsylvania “by the grace of God,” and that he was confident about his chances in Michigan and Wisconsin. "The blue wall has to be reestablished,” he said.
But final results in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan could be unclear on election night because these states are expected to be the three slowest to count the high volume of absentee ballots.
The reason: Pennsylvania and Wisconsin don't allow the processing of mail-in ballots to begin until Election Day and Michigan only has a 10-hour start, compared to other states that start that can start the process days or weeks in advance.
Because initial votes are expected to be dominated by Election Day voters, results in these states could skew toward Trump before absentee ballots, which are expected to favor Biden are fully counted. It's a phenomenon election experts call the "blue shift," and it could mean results in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan remain in doubt longer than others.
Margins by percentage points (averages are according to Real Clear Politics):
Michigan 2016: Trump won by 0.23 percentage points
Michigan 2020 average of polls: Biden leads by 8.1
Wisconsin 2016: Trump won by 0.77
Wisconsin 2020 average of polls: Biden leads by 5.1
Pennsylvania 2016: Trump won by 0.72
Pennsylvania 2020 average of polls: Biden leads by 5.3
Tier 2: The Big 3 Sun Belt states
States: Arizona, Florida, North Carolina
Because the three critical Rust Belt states could take longer to count ballots, three battlegrounds in the South could be more telling on election night.
Arizona, Florida and North Carolina each begin processing mail ballots weeks before the election and could have most votes counted either on election night or into the next day. Unless outcomes are extremely close – which is possible – we could know who won these states sooner than the trio of Midwest states.
Trump won each of these states in 2016 by less than 4 percentage points. But Biden has polling leads, albeit small, in all three.
Biden could end the race on election night by winning Florida's 29 electoral votes and either Arizona or North Carolina, plus carrying all states won by Clinton – regardless of what happens in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Even a Biden win in just Florida would dramatically limit Trump's pathways, forcing him to need wins in each of the three slow-counting Midwest battlegrounds.
Not surprisingly, Florida is a campaign hotbed. Obama stumped for Biden in Miami on Saturday and Biden will travel to Broward County and Tampa on Thursday. Trump on Tuesday will swing through Sarasota and Miami.
Conversely, Biden would still have life if Trump were to carry Florida, Arizona and North Carolina. The former vice president would need to carry every state that Clinton won in 2016 and flip Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Trump would have to still win one of these states to win.
That's why a Trump victory in Florida and Arizona wouldn't necessarily mean a reelection victory but rather shift the focus on the counting efforts in the Midwest states.
"Look, we're going to win Florida," Bill Stepien, Trump's campaign manager, aware of the importance of the Sunshine State, said last week. He insisted there remains "multiple paths" for Trump to reach 270 delegates.
Margins by percentage points:
Arizona 2016: Trump won by 3.5 percentage points
Arizona 2020 average of polls: Biden leads by 2.4
Florida 2016: Trump won by 1.2
Florida 2020 average of polls: Biden leads by 1.5
North Carolina 2016: Trump won by 3.7
North Carolina 2020 average of polls: Biden leads by 1.2
Tier 3: Tougher states for Biden to flip
States: Iowa, Ohio, Georgia and Texas
Like Arizona, Florida and North Carolina, Trump also won Iowa, Ohio, Georgia and Texas in 2016, but by larger margins.
Each is now in play with polls showing tight races. Enough votes could be counted on election night in these four states to know which direction they are heading.
Trump needs to hold on to all four. Tight races in these states could signal trouble nationally for the president, including potential losses in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Losses for Trump in Ohio, with 18 electors, or Georgia, with 16 electors, would severely limit the president's path. And a Biden win in Texas, with 38 delegates, would be game over for Trump if every other state stays the same as 2016.
Texas and Georgia have long been targets of Democrats because of diverse demographics and growing populations in suburbs. Ohio and Iowa shifted to the Republican column in 2016 after Obama won both in 2008 and 2012. At the start of the race, they were thought to be out of reach for Democrats, but the outlook changed amid criticism of Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump has been playing defense in these states, even campaigning in-person in Georgia and Ohio during the final stretch of the campaign.
For Biden, wins in these states aren't essential. But doing so would help build the landslide many Democrats covet to stave off attempts hinted by Trump to reject the results of the election or to fight results in court.
Margins by percentage points:
Iowa 2016: Trump won by 3.5 percentage points
Iowa 2020 average of polls: Biden leads by 2.4
Georgia 2016: Trump won by 0.4
Georgia 2020 average of polls: Biden leads by 1.5
Ohio 2016: Trump won by 3.7
Ohio 2020 average of polls: Trump leads by 0.6
Texas 2016: Trump won by 9
Texas 2020 average of polls: Trump leads by 3
Tier 4: States Trump hopes to flip
States: Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire
Perhaps the biggest variable on election night would be if Trump can flip states that Clinton won in 2016.
The campaign has played out almost entirely in states that Trump won four years ago. But the Trump campaign has tried to put Biden on defense in three states: Minnesota, New Hampshire and Nevada. While Nevada and Minnesota returns should come in promptly, New Hampshire is among the states that doesn't start processing absentee ballots until Election Day.
Trump shocked skeptics four years ago when he carried the Midwest and he's seen improving poll numbers in Minnesota and Nevada.
Minnesota, with 10 delegates just like neighboring Wisconsin, last voted for a Republican president in 1972, but the Trump campaign continues to tout its chances there. The campaign ramped up its television ad buys in Minnesota and pounced on Biden's statements from last week's debate when he said he hopes to transition from the oil industry. Jason Miller, a senior advisor for the Trump campaign, predicted Biden's remarks would be "devastating" across the Midwest.
The Trump campaign's push in Minnesota forced the Biden campaign to devote resources there as well. Biden is also airing television ads in Nevada, a state where Biden struggled during the Democratic primary, finishing a distant second behind Sen. Bernie Sanders.
If Trump can win in Minnesota, he could shake-up the math in the Midwest and offset a potential loss in Wisconsin or Michigan. The same would be true if he could win Nevada and New Hampshire. But the latter, where Biden is leading by double-digits in polls, could be out of reach for the president.
Margins by percentage points:
Minnesota 2016: Clinton won by 1.5 percentage points
Minnesota 2020 average of polls: Biden leads by 6
Nevada 2016: Clinton won by 2.4
Nevada 2020 average of polls: Biden leads by 5.2
New Hampshire 2016: Clinton won by 0.37
New Hampshire 2020 average of polls: Biden leads by 11
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump, Biden: When will we have 2020 presidential election results?