Tag Archives: election forecast

Election 2024: The Rematch of the Century!

You probably don’t want to be reading about this. Well I don’t want to be writing about it! But given that this past Friday was officially 18 months until the election, and that we probably already know who the nominees will be (more on this below), I feel I must. Just this once, then I plan to steadfastly avoid writing on this further until we’re a year out.

So, what’s that I say about how we already know who the nominees will be? Let’s start with the easy one.

President Joe Biden announced that he was running again on April 25th. On general principle, this means he’ll be the nominee- the last time an incumbent President lost their party’s nomination was in 1884. Also note that, in order to lose your nomination, there has to be somebody running against you. Every major potential alternative is on board with Biden 2024, including 2016 and 2020 runner-up Senator Bernie Sanders.

While many Democrats aren’t thrilled with Biden running again, the vast majority are satisfied enough, and, as mentioned above, the Party leadership is all in. So, barring health conditions preventing him from continuing, or a debilitating scandal erupting, Biden will be the Democratic nominee. Which brings us to…

Former President Donald Trump announced that he was running again on November 16th of last year. In his case, it’s not that there isn’t anyone else running. In fact, it will likely be the opposite condition that ends up handing him the crown.

There are plenty of potential candidates kicking around: Former South Carolina Governor and UN Representative Nikki Haley and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson have already announced. South Carolina Senator Tim Scott has an announcement pending. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Former Vice President Mike Pence haven’t announced, but they’re sure behaving like candidates. And former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and current New Hampshire Governor Chris Sunnunu are known to be seriously considering.

This pretty much sets up a repeat of 2016, where a large field splintered the vote so that no single “not Trump” candidate emerged. That, a loyal core base, and the Republican penchant for winner-take-all primaries allowed Trump to gallop away with the nomination even though he only got low 40s-percent of the vote. DeSantis had initially seemed to be getting some traction, but has now faded back, as can be clearly seen in 538’s poll tracker:

The most recent polls have shown that 44% of Republicans don’t want Trump to run again. However, the flipside of that is that 56% do. And this is after January 6th, the classified documents scandal, the new special counsel, the New York indictments, etc. Trump retains a loyal core of support, as he always has, the whole way along.

Combine this core base with the large field, the current leading alternate contender doing worse over time, and the winner-take-all primaries, and the conclusion seems inescapable. Trump is overwhelmingly likely to be the party’s nominee in 2024.

But wait, you say, what about all of Trump’s multiple streams of legal peril? They don’t matter. Being on trial doesn’t make you disqualified from running for President. Being found guilty doesn’t make you disqualified from running from President. Even being in jail wouldn’t disqualify you. As long as Trump’s base sticks with him (and they have so far, through everything over almost eight years), he’ll be the nominee.

Okay, so say we’re headed for a rematch. What’s the outlook? First of all, how dare you! It is utterly useless to prognosticate about this kind of thing a year and a half in advance! Second of all, as a hopeless election nerd, I will take you up on it anyway.

Biden’s net popularity isn’t great (also from 538):

On the other hand, that number is a weak indicator this far out. We can say that his net approval isn’t that much different from same period lows of first term Reagan, Clinton, and Obama, who all went on to handily win reelection:

Also in Biden’s favor is the above-noted fact that he hasn’t attracted any major challengers (sorry Bobby Jr. and Marianne). Presidents who do have competitive re-nomination primaries (Ford, Carter, Bush I) are usually headed for a loss.

And probably the greatest single factor in Biden’s favor is that he’s probably running against Trump. Trump is massively unpopular, and has multiple downside legal issues facing him going forward. In that same poll cited above about 44% of Republicans not wanting Trump to run again, 93% of Democrats and 63% of Independents felt the same way. It’s pretty hard to win a general election when coming up on 2/3 of Independents, and a major chunk of your own party don’t want you there.

The standard disclaimers apply: Eighteen months is a long time. Either candidate could face major health issues. Either candidate could face a crippling scandal (although it’s hard to imagine what would be crippling for Trump in the eyes of Republicans at this point). Recession could be in full swing come election day. Some foreign policy event could have either massive upside or downside for Biden. And so on…

And in our highly regionally polarized age it’s also worth mentioning that the electoral college could make things dicey no matter what. In 2016, Trump finished behind by 2% and 3 million votes nationally, and still became President because of 78,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Put another way, if just 39,000 of the 14 million voters in those three states had changed their minds, I might be writing about who will succeed Hillary Clinton in the White House next year.

And 2020 was arguably even closer. Biden ended up leading by 4.5% and 7 million votes nationally. But without the 37 electoral votes in Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin, we would have had a 269-269 tie, which would have gone to the House of Representatives to settle and probably would have resulted in a Trump “reelection”. Biden won those three states by fewer than 45,000 votes combined. Meaning that around 22,000 voters out of 11.5 million total in just three states changing their minds could have led to a different result.

So this rematch could go down to the wire no matter what the popular vote is. There’s a cheerful thought to consider for the next six months until we check in again!

Four more years? (one week to go edition!)

Well glory be, there’s only a week to go! Did you ever think we’d make it this far? Me either. But here we are! Biden’s position was looking pretty strong a week ago. What about now? There are several ways we can approach this question…

There being a week to go, we might look back a week, and see if there’s evidence of movement in any particular direction. At the national level, RCP’s average has negligible movement over the past week:

The tiny bit of tightening seen above is frankly indistinguishable from statistical noise. it certainly doesn’t show evidence of a big move for or away from either candidate.

As we’ve mentioned before, RCP has a “naive” average in the sense that it just averages together recent polls. Over at 538, their averages also do weighting by a pollster’s track record of accuracy, and take into account the historical partisan lean of various pollsters. This is certainly more sophisticated, and, arguably, leads to better results. Using this method, their “topline” number for Biden is higher:

They are also showing some tightening, in that Biden’s lead is down from 10.3% a week ago. While this is more movement than RCP shows, it’s equally hard to distinguish from statistical noise within the margin of error, and certainly doesn’t seem like a major shift.

But, as you may have heard once or twice, elections aren’t determined by national results. They’re determined by the electoral college, and how the candidates perform in the individual states. Here’s how the numbers for the most likely swing states have shifted over the past week:

There’s definite evidence of tightening up here, but Biden still leads in all six states with a week to go. Some of these leads are pretty narrow and well within a margin of error, so we wouldn’t be surprised if, for example, he didn’t end up carrying Florida or North Carolina. Crucially, however, RCP has him above 5% in Michigan and Wisconsin, which means any one of the other states could take him over the top. 538 has him above 5% in those two, and Pennsylvania as well, which wins the race.

If we look at RCP’s “no tossups” map today (right) versus one week ago (left) the only change is that they now have the very close Georgia going to Trump:

To sum up here, looking over the past week we see some evidence of tightening (actually a very usual occurrence toward the end of a campaign), but we don’t see any indication of a big trajectory change. And, since Trump is behind by 7-10 nationally and trailing in the most crucial swing states, he needs a trajectory change. “Staying roughly the same” for Biden, is remaining in a predominant position.

This is even more true given that, thanks to the push for absentee and early voting due to the pandemic, literally tens of millions of people have voted over the last week. As of this writing, more than 68 million ballots have already been cast, representing almost 50% of the total votes from 2016:

So the preceding polling numbers weren’t only a preview of what voters may do on Election Day, they are the data that came in as voters were actually voting all across the country.

Another way we might approach this is to look at Biden compared to Clinton at the same point in 2016:

Looking at these side by side, several things become apparent:

  • Biden’s lead is about twice as big as Clinton’s was a week out.
  • Trump’s late surge in 2016 is readily apparent. Nothing like that seems to be going on in 2020.
  • There are considerably fewer undecideds at this point than there were in 2016.
  • Biden remains solidly above 50%, while Clinton was falling down from 48%.
  • Trump hasn’t had a day over 44% since March, whereas at this point in 2016 he was climbing up toward 46%.

Two other things are worth quickly mentioning about the state by state outlook in 2016 versus 2020. The first is that there was a significant third party presence in 2016, whereas we have no indication of it being above the more typical 1%-2% this time. That created a lot more uncertainty in races that were down to the wire in 2016 than there is this time.

The second is that the polling of at least the Midwestern swing states is better this time- both in terms of number of polls, and models taking into account the kinds of voters that went for Trump in 2016. Pollsters may be making entirely different kinds of mistakes this go-around, but being way off in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin probably isn’t one of them.

One can see the net effect of the lower national margin and the uncertainty in 2016 versus 2020 quite clearly in the 538 forecast model. As of today, it has Biden at an 88% chance of winning the race:

At this same point in 2016, Clinton had dipped down to 71% (and was falling):

Any way you look at it, week-to-go 2020 versus week-to-go 2016 indicates that Biden is in a much more solid position than Clinton was. And recall, Clinton won the popular vote, and only isn’t President today because of literally 77,000 voters spread across three mid-western states. It doesn’t take much marginal improvement in 2020 vs. 2016 to swing the election, and Biden looks to have more than marginal improvement.

The last area we might quickly check in on is whether other data points line up with the notion that Biden is doing well. With a week to go, Trump remains around 10% underwater in net popularity, a position no recent President has won from:

538’s Senate model indicates that Democrats remain favored to win back the Senate:

As does RCP’s “no tossups” Senate map:

And the generic Congressional ballot shows Democrats with a clear edge nationally:

As the 538 model gives them a 96% chance of keeping the House, and even expects them to widen their margin by a few seats:

Whether we look at movement from a week ago, comparison to 2016, or fit with other data points, the verdict is clear: Biden remains in an extremely strong position with one week to go.

We’ll do one more update on Monday with (egads!) 24 hours to go!