The 2024 presidential election is set to be a 2020 rematch.
Former President Trump’s double-digit victory in the New Hampshire GOP primary on Tuesday makes him the overwhelming favorite to be the Republican nominee.
All but one of Trump’s credible rivals have exited the race, and the sole survivor, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, will soon have to decide whether to do the same. Haley could stay in until her home state of South Carolina votes on Feb. 24. But she might not want to risk embarrassment with polls showing Trump crushing her there by more than 30 points.
On the Democratic side, widespread worries about President Biden’s age and low poll ratings have not led to any serious primary challenge.
Biden won the New Hampshire primary through a write-in campaign, easily defeating rivals who were actually on the ballot, including Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) and author Marianne Williamson.
So far, the polls have a Biden-Trump rematch as a very close race. The polling average maintained by The Hill and Decision Desk HQ (DDHQ) currently gives Trump a 1-point edge.
Here are five factors that could determine the election’s outcome.
Team Biden believes the economy will ultimately be an asset to the president’s reelection hopes.
The campaign and its allies cite robust job growth, totaling about 14 million jobs during his tenure so far. The unemployment rate stands at 3.7 percent, down from 6.4 percent in January 2021, the month Biden took office.
The pro-Biden argument also notes how steeply the tide of inflation has receded, even as the Federal Reserve appears to have avoided plunging the economy into recession. The most recent annualized inflation rate, for December, was 3.4 percent, down from a peak of 9.1 percent in June 2022.
The belief that the Fed is in the process of accomplishing a “soft landing” of the economy has also sent the stock market to all-time highs.
The huge problem for Biden? Americans aren’t feeling it.
A Gallup poll last month found just 22 percent of Americans rated economic conditions as excellent or good. By contrast, 33 percent called those conditions “only fair,” and a full 45 percent characterized them as “poor.”
A Pew Research Center poll late last year found just 36 percent of Americans were confident in Biden’s ability to make good decisions about economic policy, while 64 percent were not confident.
It’s possible those numbers turn around between now and November.
If they don’t, Biden may well be doomed.
Fit for office? The questions over Trump’s behavior and Biden’s age
Trump has accumulated a record that would be politically fatal to virtually any other candidate.
He was impeached twice as president — the second time for inciting the Capitol riot of Jan. 6, 2021. He faces 91 criminal charges across four indictments and was found liable at a separate civil trial last year for the sexual abuse of writer E. Jean Carroll.
Trump continues to make false claims of election fraud while calling opponents “vermin” and suggesting his candidacy could be an instrument for “retribution.”
None of it has harmed Trump with the GOP base, but it’s a different story among the general public.
A new Economist/YouGov poll out Wednesday showed a majority of Americans, 52 percent, with an unfavorable impression of Trump.
The Biden campaign will spend much of the next 10 months painting Trump as a danger to democracy.
In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, Biden 2024 campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodríguez cast the coming battle as between “a campaign of revenge and retribution that threatens American democracy” and one that is being waged “to protect our sacred rights and freedoms.”
That said, questions over fitness for office go both directions, albeit in different ways.
Poll after poll shows a huge swathe of voters has concerns about the capacity of the 81-year-old Biden to effectively serve a second term.
In a CNN/SSRS poll last November, just 25 percent of registered voters thought Biden had “the stamina and sharpness to serve effectively as President.” Even 48 percent of Democrats thought otherwise.
There are plenty of hot-button issues on which Republicans clearly have the advantage, including immigration, crime and the economy.
But the GOP has a major vulnerability on abortion — a weakness that, ironically, stems from the huge judicial victory won by social conservatives when the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June 2022.
The decision was, and remains, deeply unpopular.
A USA Today/Suffolk University poll released around the first anniversary of the decision found Americans disapproving of Roe being overturned by almost 2-to-1, 58 percent to 30 percent.
Ballot measures have been held in seven states on the abortion issue since Roe was overturned. The liberal side has won all of them, even in deep-red states such as Kansas and Kentucky.
The issue was clearly also part of the reason why Democrats had a better midterm election than expected in 2022.
Abortion is politically potent, in part, because of its resonance with suburban women, a key demographic, and its capacity to fire up turnout.
Trump has been hard to pin down on abortion during the GOP primary. At times, he has boasted of his role in ending Roe, having nominated three of the conservative Supreme Court justices who overturned the 1973 decision. But he has also been critical of some of the strictest bans.
Last September, Trump told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) decision to sign a six-week ban into law in his state was “a terrible mistake.”
The Israel-Hamas War
It’s rare for a war to have an electorally seismic effect unless there are American boots on the ground.
Israel’s campaign in Gaza, launched in reprisal for Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks inside Israel, may be an exception.
The reason is the conflict’s clear capacity to cleave the Democratic Party in half.
Among older, more centrist Democrats, support for Israel remains strong.
But it’s an entirely different picture among young progressives, who are far more likely to sympathize with the Palestinian cause.
This rift has been growing for years, but it takes on a whole new political salience when Israel is estimated to have killed more than 25,000 Palestinians, by the count of the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.
Israel’s campaign has forced the displacement of almost 2 million people in Gaza and drawn a charge of genocide from the government of South Africa. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dismissed any possibility of a two-state solution to the broader conflict.
Throughout it all, Biden has remained broadly supportive of Israel. The fact that he has recently tempered his rhetoric has done little to cool the fury of progressives.
A Biden speech on Tuesday was disrupted repeatedly by pro-Palestinian protesters.
The bigger political problem for Biden is the conflict’s capacity to depress turnout from key parts of the Democratic base, including young voters, Black voters and Arab American voters.
It’s conspicuous that, among the battleground states, Biden is polling especially badly in Michigan. He carried the Wolverine State in 2020 after Trump had won it in 2016. Michigan is home to more than 200,000 Arab Americans.
Third-party candidates are among the biggest wild cards in the 2024 race.
Much will depend upon their capacity to actually get on the ballot. And the question of which of the major candidates they will help and hurt is not straightforward either.
For example, some polling suggests that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has the capacity to take more support away from Trump than Biden.
On the other hand, the Green Party’s Jill Stein almost certainly poses a bigger danger to Biden, since she provides a vehicle for voters on the left to register their discontent.
The same is true of progressive activist and academic Cornel West, though his capacity to get on many states’ ballots is in very serious question.
One more unknown comes in the shape of No Labels, the controversial and purportedly centrist organization.
No Labels said earlier this month that it had secured ballot access in 13 states. But it has yet to make a decision on whether to run a candidate.
If the group did so, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) may be the most likely standard-bearer.
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