An Early, Early Look at Biden’s 2024 Prospects
Historically, the third possibility seems more likely. Mr. Biden’s age shouldn’t be understated as a legitimate factor, but he won despite his age last time, and incumbent presidents usually win re-election. The large number of voters who dislike Mr. Trump and once liked Mr. Biden create upside. The direction of the economy will be a crucial variable, of course, but at least for now the combination of low unemployment and slowly fading inflation would seem to provide enough ammunition for Mr. Biden to make his case. Still, his ratings are low enough today that they could improve markedly without securing his re-election.
Three kinds of voters appear to loom large as Mr. Biden tries to reassemble the coalition that brought him to the White House in 2020: young voters, nonwhite voters and perhaps low-income voters as well. In the most recent surveys, Mr. Biden is badly underperforming among these groups, appearing to be at least a net 10 points behind his 2020 numbers with them overall, helping to explain why the early general election polls show a close race.
Mr. Biden has shown weakness among these groups at various times before, so it is not necessarily surprising that he’s struggling among them again with his approval rating in the low 40s. Still, they crystallize the various challenges ahead of his campaign: his age, the economy, and voters who won’t be won over on issues like abortion or democratic principles. In his announcement video on Tuesday, Mr. Biden devoted almost all of his attention to rights, freedom, democracy and abortion. He’ll probably need a way to speak to people who are animated by more material, economic concerns than abstract liberal values.
A final wild card is the Electoral College. Even if Mr. Biden does win the national vote by a modest margin, Mr. Trump could assemble a winning coalition in the battleground states that decide the presidency, as he did in 2016.
In 2020, Mr. Biden won the national vote by 4.4 percentage points, but barely squeaked out wins by less than one percentage point in Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin. To win, he needed one of the three.
At the moment, there’s a case the Electoral College will be less favorable to Mr. Trump, relative to the national vote, than it was in 2020. In the midterm elections, the gap between the popular vote for U.S. House and a hypothetical Electoral College result based on the House vote essentially evaporated, down from nearly four points in 2020. It’s possible this was simply a product of unusually poor Republican nominees at the top of the ticket in many of the most competitive states, but there are plausible reasons it might also reflect underlying electoral trends.
The renewed importance of abortion, for instance, might help Democrats most in relatively white, secular areas, which would tend to help them more in the Northern battlegrounds than elsewhere. “Democracy” may also play well as an issue in the battlegrounds, as these are the very states where the stop-the-steal movement threatened to overturn the results of the last election. Meanwhile, Mr. Biden’s relative weakness among nonwhite voters, who are disproportionately concentrated in noncompetitive states, might do more to hurt his tallies in states like California or Illinois than Wisconsin or Pennsylvania.
Given the idiosyncratic and localized nature of last year’s midterm results, it would be a mistake to be confident that the Republican Electoral College advantage is coming to an end. If that edge persists, the modest Biden lead in national polls today wouldn’t be enough for him to secure re-election.