News Brief: Final Electoral Map, Hidden Coronavirus Data, Stock Market
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
NPR's Politics team has been poring over the data to predict what the electoral map might look like on Election Day. Their final version is out today. And let's just say it's far from clear-cut.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Let's recall the basics here. The election is decided state by state. Yesterday, Joe Biden campaigned in Florida, saying if he wins that state, he will close off Trump's path to victory. The president knows this and campaigned in Florida, too.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We are going to win Florida. We are going to win four more years in the White House.
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JOE BIDEN: When you use your power, the power of the vote, we literally are going to change the course of this country for generations to come.
INSKEEP: Of course, you decide the final result. We don't. Biden has an advantage on the NPR map. There is still a path to victory for this president, as well - a narrow path but far from impossible.
GREENE: And let's talk this through with NPR senior political editor Domenico Montanaro. Good morning, Domenico.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, David.
GREENE: So what are you seeing in this map?
MONTANARO: Well, you know, like you say, Biden has the advantage, but the president is within striking distance in a lot of these competitive states. What our map shows is that with states leaning or likely to go in either candidate's direction, Biden now leads 279 to 125, a pretty significant lead in that respect.
MONTANARO: But look. We made two big changes, putting two important states in the toss-up category, Arizona and Texas. Not all toss-ups are created equal, though. We hesitated with Texas because of its history voting Republican. You know, Biden has been leading in Arizona pretty consistently since early March, but the polls there are within the margin of error. And these are two traditionally red states but, again, another two other places where Biden is doing better than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. That's happening in a lot of red states. Think about Montana, Alaska, Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, all places Trump is likely to win but underperforming. And if that trend continues and expected record turnout happens, Biden's on track to win a higher popular vote than Clinton, who won it by three million votes. But as we say, you know, it's those key swing states that matter and determine whether a president wins in the Electoral College.
GREENE: And that's what gives Trump, you know, a narrow path to win this election, right? So tell me how he would build up enough electoral votes to win if - you know, narrow as it might be?
MONTANARO: Yeah, I mean, all the toss-up states right now are polling within the margin of error. So when you see a state is two or three points one way or another, it's not much of a lead at all. So I understand Democrats being very nervous. Trump would have to win all of those toss-up states and then have to win over one of the states leaning in Biden's direction. If he does that - remember, he ran that sort of inside straight in 2016. That would make it 259 to 259.
MONTANARO: That would leave Pennsylvania as the next state up in the polling averages. And it's a state that both campaigns are obviously targeting pretty heavily. And Pennsylvania is expected to be slow in counting the vote. We could be waiting for some time because Pennsylvania doesn't have a history of dealing with as much mail-in voting as it has been this year.
GREENE: I feel like the only thing that's 100% certain is that this has been an insane, extraordinary election season. I mean, the final days are finally here. What are you keeping your eye on?
MONTANARO: I mean, it's been a crazy year. I mean, you know, we started out, you know, in Iowa not being able to count all the votes in the Democratic primary. And, you know, we've had coronavirus throw a huge variable into all of this. And I think people just need to be very patient because the one thing that seems certain is that it's going to be sky-high turnout, and it's going to take a lot of time to count all those votes.
GREENE: Feels like that not-ending vote counting in Iowa was, like, two days ago and five years ago all at once.
MONTANARO: (Laughter) I know.
GREENE: NPR senior political editor Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thanks so much.
MONTANARO: You're welcome.
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GREENE: So the stock market has done well during President Trump's administration.
INSKEEP: The president leans on that fact as he campaigns in these closing days. And he's also been sending dire and baseless predictions about what will happen to Wall Street if Joe Biden is elected. Here he is at a rally in Ohio this week.
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TRUMP: You're going to have a depression. And your 401(k)s - does anybody have a 401(k)?
TRUMP: Throw them away (laughter). They're not going to be worth...
INSKEEP: Again, there's really no basis to say where the stock market is going in the future, but there you have it.
GREENE: Well, let's bring in NPR's Jim Zarroli to talk us through what actually is happening with the stock market. Good morning, Jim.
JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: So can I ask you, I mean, how big a role does the market actually play in a presidential election?
ZARROLI: I know - I think President Trump is hoping it plays a big role.
ZARROLI: The market is has done very well under his administration for the most part, which has surprised a lot of people sometimes. We've had this bull market. It's come back under, you know, even difficult circumstances. I mean, over the summer, we saw the market hitting record highs, even though we had this pandemic recession. I think President Trump would like this to be seen by voters as reflecting well on him and his administration. To some extent, it will. The problem is, you know, only about 55% of the country owns stocks, even when you take retirement funds into account. And most of people don't have a lot. So that is an issue that really just affects a subset of the population. For everybody else, what's happening in the market is has been overshadowed by this - these very substantial problems in the economy since the pandemic. The most important thing is jobs and wages and income, not stocks. So the problem for Trump is that his effort to hold that up to voters maybe doesn't resonate with a lot of them.
GREENE: Nevertheless, he's trying. And he's trying to make the argument not just that it's done well under under his watch but also that it would be terrible - stocks would tank under a Biden presidency. I mean, give us the real picture. How does Wall Street view a potential Biden presidency?
ZARROLI: I think Wall Street's kind of ambivalent about it. I mean, you know, on the one hand, Biden is a Democrat. He's talking about raising taxes on corporations and rich people. He wants to see more regulation on businesses. These are things Wall Street doesn't like. On the other hand, you know, you have this pandemic that's just ripped a big hole in the economy. And Biden has made clear that if he's president, he wants to see strong, immediate action to try to stop the bleeding. He's talked about, you know, a lot of government spending to aid to schools and city budgets and small businesses. I spoke yesterday with Mark Zandi, who is chief economist at Moody's Analytics. And he says a lot of people now think this is really necessary what Biden's talking about. Now, of course, President Trump also wants to see the government spend money to get the economy moving, just not so much. So Zandi says Wall Street sees good and bad in both.
GREENE: Jim, the market has fallen quite a bit in recent weeks. I mean, if the president does want to link his political future to how the market does - I mean, Wednesday, the Dow is down 900 points - couldn't that be a commentary on his administration's stewardship of the economy in these uncertain times?
ZARROLI: I think what has happened this week is really more about the pandemic. We've seen this increase in cases, lockdowns in the U.S. and Europe. I think investors are worried about where this is going. Are we going to see further slowdowns? Congress and the White House have been trying to come up with a stimulus bill, haven't really succeeded. So it gets back to the issue of the pandemic. It's really more important than anything else right now. It has a potential to really hurt the economy.
GREENE: NPR's Jim Zarroli. Jim, thanks as always.
ZARROLI: You're welcome.
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GREENE: So how many people can a hospital hold? That is critical information in a moment like this, with so many patients suffering from COVID and needing intensive care.
INSKEEP: NPR has learned the federal government has this information, data about which hospitals are at risk of being overwhelmed. That information is being gathered and analyzed daily but not being made public.
GREENE: And we have NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin here to talk about this. Hi, Selena.
SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: So you've obtained a document that you've been reviewing here. What is it, and what is it showing you?
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: So the document is a 49-page slide deck. It's dated October 27, which was Tuesday. It has a lot of charts and maps - not a lot of raw data, but it offers a glimpse into the kind of information the federal government is gathering and analyzing. There are graphs that show hospital trends, capacity intensive care units, ventilator use and more. And it appears to be circulated every day to a fairly limited group of about 40, mostly staff at the Department of Health and Human Services. Only one member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force appears to receive it daily, and that's Admiral Brett Giroir. And public health experts we talked to say these data could be really helpful in the fight against this virus, but they can't get access to the data.
GREENE: Well, what stands out in these pages that they might want to get access to?
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Well, one key slide shows how hospitalizations are changing in metro areas. So you can see from October 27 that hospitals in metro Atlanta, Minneapolis and Baltimore were this week more than 80% full. And another slide shows that specific hospitals in Tampa, Birmingham and New York had ICUs that were over 95% full this week. So my reporting partner Pien Huang and I reviewed the document with several data experts and epidemiologists, and many of them said that there's more they could do with the underlying data that HHS is collecting but not sharing.
GREENE: What are they saying they could do if they had access to it?
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Well, one thing you could do is graph how fast hospitalizations are increasing. So if you run a hospital that's been 75% full for weeks and you're managing your staff and everything's working OK, then being 77% full might not be concerning. But if you've been 50% full and one day, you're suddenly 77% full, then that could be really concerning. It could mean you need some resources. And your community needs to change its public health mandates. So it's the same number, but it means something really different. I talked to Melissa McPheeters, an epidemiologist at Vanderbilt, about this.
MELISSA MCPHEETERS: With this particular disease, it's like a race car. Once it starts accelerating, it's really hard to slow it down. You know, you may be able to stop on a dime up to, you know, 70 miles an hour, but you can't stop on a dime at 100 miles an hour.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: She says with detailed data from around the country, researchers could watch that acceleration. They could see where the epidemic is going next. But they don't have access to the data at the national level right now, even though it is being gathered by HHS.
GREENE: What is HHS saying? Are they responding to some of this criticism?
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: An agency spokesperson told NPR, quote, "Our goal is to be as transparent as possible while still protecting privacy." Public health experts we spoke to said there's not much in this document that would raise privacy concerns. And it doesn't seem like there's a reason why HHS couldn't release more of this data if it wanted to.
GREENE: Wow, interesting and important stuff. NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin, thanks so much.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.