Why Trump is now the favorite to win the US election

This split in the Democratic Party, fueled by concerns about Biden’s age and his response to the Israel-Hamas war, is evident in the president’s depressed approval ratings and eroding support with minority voters.

5 mins read
Donald Trump [File Photo]

Last time I wrote about the 2024 US election back in November, I rated the outcome of the rematch between President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump a coin flip.

Today, with eight months left until the votes are counted and as the most unwanted sequel since “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure” kicks into high gear, Trump is looking like the slight favorite to return to the White House in 2025.

There are several reasons why.

Biden is unambiguously behind in the polls

If you ask me, Biden is doing a reasonable-to-good job on policy. The post-pandemic inflation has been all but conquered. Unemployment has stayed under 4% throughout. Real wages are up, gas prices are down, and the stock market keeps hitting record highs. Violent crime is near 50-year lows. Oil and gas production is at all-time highs.

But most Americans disagree. Biden’s average job approval ratings have been hovering around 38-39% since October last year, reflecting a drop in support among young progressives who disapprove of his support for Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 attacks. Biden’s approval is lower than any modern president’s at this juncture in a reelection campaign except for Jimmy Carter’s … and we know how that one turned out.

While head-to-head polling is less predictive than an incumbent’s job approval this far out, all recent national and swing state polls show Biden trailing Trump. Trump’s advantage is also clear when looking at top-issue polling. A Bloomberg/Morning Consult swing state poll (covering Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada, Arizona, and Georgia – the closest states in 2020) last week asked voters which issues are “very important” to their vote in November. The top five issues were the economy, democracy, crime, immigration, and health care. Trump has sizable leads on who voters trust to handle three of five of these top issues, and he leads on secondary issues such as infrastructure, US-China relations, housing, and guns. He also leads on nearly every economic subcategory in the poll, including all cost-of-living issues, which are a major vulnerability for Biden.

Yes, polls can be and have been wrong before, and polling averages are still reasonably close. And fewer people are responding to polls than they used to — so we really should be careful with these numbers. Plus, Super Tuesday was only just yesterday, so until very recently many voters didn’t believe it’d really come down to Biden vs. Trump, meaning there is still a lot of room for polls to move as the campaign begins in earnest. A lot could and will change in the next eight months in an extremely volatile domestic and global environment. And of course, anything could happen on the health front for either of the two candidates.

But Trump’s clear lead in head-to-head matchups and Biden’s persistently low approval rating suggest Trump is currently the modest favorite in a close race.

SCOTUS helps Trump keep the focus on Biden

As I wrote in November, Biden and Trump are both historically unpopular candidates, meaning that whoever is the main character of the election is likely to lose. That’s why they’re each trying to frame the election as a referendum on the other.

Biden’s most obvious liability is his age (also a liability for Trump, to be sure), something he can do nothing to overcome. Moreover, as the incumbent president, he’s the go-to lightning rod for the national mood. All the things people believe are going wrong in this country (especially illegal immigration) – and even things that are going wrong abroad, such as the humanitarian crisis in Gaza – are his fault by default. The buck, after all, stops at the Oval Office. These weaknesses are not going away between now and November – if anything, they’re getting worse.

Trump’s biggest liability, meanwhile, is his unfitness for office. This is best captured by the 91 felony counts he faces in four separate cases – the first criminal charges ever faced by a US president … all of which now look unlikely to have any impact on the election. The one wildcard issue that could have seriously dented the Trump campaign, a federal criminal conviction before the election, became dead in the water last week when the Supreme Court agreed to hear Trump’s case for presidential immunity in his DC election interference trial. The court set oral arguments for the week of April 22 and issued a stay on proceedings in the trial until the court rules, effectively pushing the trial’s timeline – which was expected to start in the spring and run throughout the summer campaign – significantly back.

Coupled with the court’s unanimous ruling on Monday keeping the former president on the ballot nationwide (overturning a Colorado state court ruling that held he was disqualified based on Section Three of the 14th Amendment), this decision was a gift to Trump. The election interference case was the greatest political risk to the former president, reminding independent voters and moderate Republicans of Trump’s actions on Jan. 6. But even on the court’s expedited timeline, it now looks unlikely that the DC trial – the one case most likely to have brought a felony conviction against Trump – will begin before August (presuming the court denies the former president immunity, as most legal analysts think it will). With the trial expected to last 8-12 weeks, the odds of a conviction before November are now exceedingly low.

Polling shows that a guilty verdict in the Jan. 6 case would cost Trump significant support from independents and moderate Republicans. Taking that risk off the table neutralizes one of his campaign’s biggest vulnerabilities and helps Trump keep the focus on Biden. The remaining cases against Trump have limited electoral importance. The Florida classified documents trial is almost certain to be delayed, too. The Manhattan cases are widely seen by Republicans as nakedly political and therefore meaningless. While the Georgia case on election racketeering, in many ways the most serious of them all, has become politically fraught because of allegations of misconduct against the lead prosecutor.

Trump’s other major weakness in the past has been his inability to keep the campaign’s focus off himself. But so far, he looks to be running a remarkably disciplined campaign, staffed by veteran professionals who are keeping him on message and deploying him strategically throughout the primaries. Sure enough, his all-caps rants on Truth Social are still unhinged, and the signs of age-related mental decline are becoming more pronounced with each rally, but by and large, the craziness is either not breaking through into the mainstream media anymore or it’s already baked into voters’ assessments of him. To the extent that Republicans only need to run a good-enough candidate to beat an unpopular incumbent, Trump may be turning into that – with a generous assist from the Supreme Court.

Party unity, third parties also likely to benefit Trump

Trump and Biden’s ability to consolidate and mobilize their bases will be a major factor in November, and according to a New York Times/Siena poll released over the weekend, Trump is miles ahead of Biden on this front: 48% of Republican primary voters say they are “enthusiastic” about Trump, while only 23% of Democratic primary voters are “enthusiastic’ about Biden and 26% are “dissatisfied” with the president.

This split in the Democratic Party, fueled by concerns about Biden’s age and his response to the Israel-Hamas war, is evident in the president’s depressed approval ratings and eroding support with minority voters. Most critically, the NYT/Siena poll shows Trump is winning 97% of those who say they voted for him in 2020, while Biden is winning only 83% of his 2020 voters, 10% of whom say they will back Trump in November.

Third-party and independent candidates are also likely to play the biggest role in an election since 1992 amid high dissatisfaction with both Biden and Trump. While these candidates face an uphill battle to get on the ballot in the first place and have no chance of winning any states in November if they do, they can still play a spoiler in the handful of swing states that will decide the election.

Polling suggests that independent Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., whose campaign recently announced it had gathered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in Arizona and Georgia, would take roughly the same number of votes from Trump as he would from Biden. By contrast, the far-left campaigns of Jill Stein and Cornel West are nearly guaranteed to reduce Biden’s vote share, drawing almost exclusively from dissatisfied progressives and minorities who would otherwise vote for the president or stay home. Recent national and swing state polls show Trump’s lead over Biden widening when third partiers are included, posing yet another headwind to Biden’s campaign.

Ian Bremmer

Ian Bremmer is President and Founder of GZERO Media. He hosts the weekly digital and broadcast show, GZERO World, where he explains the key global stories of the moment, sits down for an in-depth conversation with the newsmakers and thought leaders shaping our world, and takes your questions.

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