6 February 2024

A Look Ahead to the 2024 US Presidential Election

With less than ten months to go before the 2024 presidential election in the United States, there is still much that can happen that can turn this election on its head. That said, it is worth investigating where the candidates stand right now in the polls, even if there are to be some major surprises over the next twelve months.

First, let’s look back at the results of 2020’s presidential election. First, despite what former President Donald Trump and some of his supporters claim, the election was won by Joe Biden. Notably, Biden defeated Trump by a margin of 51.3% to 46.9% in the popular vote, the second-largest margin of victory in a presidential election in the 21st century. Only some tight state results allowed Trump to claim victory on election night, even though it was clear that a large share of the vote had yet to be counted. Something along these lines could happen again in 2024.

As we look ahead to 2024's election, let’s first look at the Democrats. President Biden is clearly the presumptive nominee as standing presidents rarely face serious challenges from within their own party. Moreover, while he is getting little credit, the fact is that President Biden has overseen a surprisingly healthy economy, despite higher rates of inflation and the lingering economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. This is particularly true when the United States’ economic performance is compared with that of other major economies in recent years. However, the president is clearly struggling with what appears to be a degree of cognitive decline. This has raised questions about the president’s health and whether or not he can withstand the rigors of a presidential election campaign. Given the unpopularity of Vice President Kamala Harris and the dearth of other potential Democratic candidates, the party is staking its near-term future on the health of a man who will be nearly 82-years-old at the time of next year’s election.

As for the Republicans, former President Donald Trump is the clear front-runner as he retains a large lead over other would-be Republican candidates such as Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley. However, he too appears to be suffering from some degree of cognitive decline and he will be 78-years-old at the time of next year’s election. Furthermore, he is facing a multitude of legal challenges that could derail his candidacy, potentially during or after the Republican Party primaries, something that could cause major disruptions to the party and the election itself.

As is typically the case in US presidential elections, only a handful of states will actually have competitive races. In 2020, only 14 states had a margin of victory for the first-place candidate that was greater than 10%. Of these, three of them (Texas, Ohio and Iowa) appear likely to vote for the Republican candidate once again. While Texas may be moving slowly towards the political center, Ohio and Iowa have clearly drifted to the right. Meanwhile three other relatively competitive states (Minnesota, Maine and New Hampshire) are likely to vote for the Democratic candidate. New Hampshire was once a very competitive state but now appears to be moving to the left, while formerly left-leaning Minnesota may eventually move closer to the center.

This leaves eight very competitive battleground states to be fought over in 2024. Three of these states (Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin) are located in the north of the country. In 2016, Trump won very narrow victories in each of these states. However, in 2020, Biden won Michigan by 2.8%, Pennsylvania by 1.2% and Wisconsin by just 0.6%. So far, the polls suggest that Biden and Trump are running neck-and-neck in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, while Trump has recently pulled ahead of Biden in Michigan. For Trump, or any other Republican candidate, to win the presidency in 2024, they must win at least two of these three northern battlegrounds.

The southeastern United States is also home to three crucial battleground states, Florida, North Carolina and Georgia. In 2020, Trump won Florida by 3.4% by increasing his share of the vote among Hispanic voters in South Florida. Moreover, Trump has maintained a large lead in Florida in recent polls. Trump also won North Carolina in 2020, although the margin was a much-narrower 1.4%. This time, the polls suggest 2024 will be another tightly-fought contest for that state. Finally, Biden famously won Georgia by the extremely narrow margin of 0.2% (or less than 12,000 votes). However, recent polls show that Trump currently holds a small lead in that state.

Finally, the western United States is home to two battleground states. The first, Arizona, was won by Biden by a margin of just 0.3% (or just over 10,000 votes), but polls currently given Trump a small lead over Biden in that state. Meanwhile, Nevada went for Biden by a margin of 2.4% in 2020, but here too he has slipped in recent polls and now trails Trump there.

Obviously, much can happen over the next year. With a combined age of nearly 160, health problems could derail the candidacy of one or both of the two front-runners in this election. For former President Donald Trump, there is a real possibility that his mounting legal troubles will prohibit him from running for the presidency next year. Likewise, the stronger-than-expected US economy could face a slowdown between now and the election, hurting President Biden’s re-election chances. Furthermore, there is a great deal of international risk facing the United States at the moment, with major wars underway in Ukraine and Israel, and with the US’ relationship with China growing ever more strained. Internal risk levels are also high, particularly as social issues have driven deep divisions with the US electorate.

As such, predicting the outcome of the 2024 presidential election is a major challenge. What is easy to predict is that next year’s presidential election will be one of the most excruciating elections in the history of the United States.