US Democrats have been spooked by some recent polls that suggest voters intend to choose Donald Trump ahead of Joe Biden in some key states in the 2024 presidential election.
A CNN poll reported on the Real Clear Politics website on November 8, current US President Biden received 45% and Trump 49% in such a contest. This 4% lead is statistically significant, meaning it cannot be attributed to errors that can occur in all polls but represents a real lead of the former president over the current president.
This prompted David Axelrod, advisor to former President Barack Obama, who is credited with the success of the latter’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012, to tweet: “If he (Biden) continues to run, he will be the nominee of the Democratic Party.” What he must decide is whether it is wise; whether it is in his best interest or that of the country? This illustrates the nervousness of some Democrats about the next presidential election, which is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, November 5, 2024.
However, another indicator could suggest that Democrats still enjoy strong support. There have been some notable electoral success for the party in the recent gubernatorial elections in Ohio, Virginia and Kentucky in November 2023. Winning all of these states would be important for the Biden campaign. Abortion was a major issue in all three states, with Ohio voters also supporting a change to the state constitution intended to protect the right to abortion, a major Democratic issue.
One of the concerns about Biden is his age (81 as of November 20), but also his poor approval ratings from the American public for his job as president. His average approval ratings reported by A really clear policy calculated from several different polls is currently 41%. On the other hand, an average of 56% of respondents in these polls disapproved of his performance.
That said, we need to be cautious about the accuracy of the polls in this case. Questions arise about the value of the president’s approval ratings as a guide to subsequent performance a year before the election. The chart below shows the relationship between the president’s approval ratings in November of the year before the election and the Republican share of delegates in the Electoral College in that election. He covers the 19 presidential elections since 1948.
The focus is on the delegates of the US Electoral College, rather than the percentage of votes in the race, since it is the former who decide the outcome of presidential elections, not the latter. THE the electoral college was put in place by the “founding fathers” of the U.S. Constitution to serve as a buffer between voters and the presidency. They feared that a demagogue would seize the presidency if voters were swept away by a particular candidate. The electoral college was seen as a safeguard against this phenomenon, and the number of votes each state receives is based on population size. Less populated states therefore receive fewer votes.
Hilary Clinton won the popular vote in the 2016 election, but lost the Electoral College race. Under these conditions, one may wonder to what extent the institution has been successful in practice. But we need to focus on academic achievement.
This analysis uses the approval ratings of the Republican candidate when that party is in power, and of the Democrat when that party is in power. This accounts for the impact of the incumbent president’s performance on the subsequent presidential election for both parties, although in the graph we focus on the Republicans.
The chart shows that there is a rather weak relationship between office approval and Electoral College votes a year later for Republican incumbents. The largest gap between the two occurred in 1972, when Richard Nixon had rather modest job approval ratings in 1971 but won a landslide victory against George McGovern, a weak Democratic opponent. A similar situation occurred again in 1984, when Ronald Reagan ran for a second term and ran a very successful campaign against his Democratic opponent Walter Mondale.
Republican presidential job approval in the year before the election and subsequent Electoral College splits
To be fair, this hasn’t always happened since Democrat Barack Obama defeated Republican candidate John McCain for president in 2008 after George W. Bush resigned at the end of his second term as president. On this occasion, Bush’s popularity rating in 2007 was poor and the Republican candidate failed to change this situation during his campaign.
This means that if we look at the approval ratings of Democratic and Republican incumbents a year before the presidential election, they are somewhat of an indication of the outcome a year later. But the relationship is weak, and if we use it to try to predict the outcome, there’s a good chance the prediction will be wrong.
That said, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that this simple model accurately describes the relationship and therefore correctly predicts the effects. If so, what does he predict? The answer is that Biden’s 41% approval rating now predicts he could get 53% of the vote in the next election.
Therefore, Biden would serve a second term. The president’s ratings may be mediocre, but if this model is accurate, he will still win the election. So it’s not a good idea to get too excited about poll results a year before the election.