There’s a strange disjunction in the discourse about the 2024 elections. On the one hand, when presented with the proposition “Trump can win,” people will nod their heads sagely and say something along the lines of: “Of course he can; only a fool would believe to the contrary.”
At the same time, whenever polling emerges showing that Donald Trump is performing well in 2024 matchups, a deluge of panicked articles, tweets (or is it “X”s?), social media posts, and the like emerge, reassuring readers that polls aren’t predictive and providing a variety of reasons that things will improve for President Biden.
As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Elections analysts seem to know that they are obliged to mouth the words that Trump can win, but deep down, they don’t believe them. The notion that Biden is the favorite is deeply internalized, likely for a variety of reasons.
So let us set the record straight: Trump can win. Not in a “maybe if all the stars align and then Russia changes the vote totals (even somehow in states like Michigan that use hand-marked paper ballots)” kind of way. Just flat out: Trump can win.
As of this writing, Trump leads Biden by 2.6 percentage points nationally in the RealClearPolitics Average. This is Trump’s largest lead in the RCP average to date. Not for 2024, mind you. Ever.
Let’s put this in perspective. In 2016, Trump led Hillary Clinton for all of five days in the national RCP Average, each of those days in the immediate aftermath of the Republican convention. He led in 29 polls taken over the course of the entire campaign, 10 of which are recorded in the RCP averages as Los Angeles Times/USC tracking polls.
In 2020, Trump never led Biden in the national RCP Average. He briefly closed to within four points in early January of 2020, but that is it. He led in five polls all cycle.
So, counting the L.A. Times tracker as a single poll, Trump led in a total of 24 national polls. This cycle? He’s led in that many since mid-September. He’s led in more polls in the past three weeks than he did against Biden in all of 2019-2020.
You may be thinking that we don’t elect our president via the popular vote, but rather do so through the Electoral College. This is, of course, true. It also makes Trump’s current position in the polls all the more striking. After all, Trump has consistently outperformed his polling, and his Electoral College positioning has consistently been stronger than his national positioning. That doesn’t mean that this will necessarily hold in 2024, and at some point, the GOP’s worsening position in the suburbs will reverse the Electoral College dynamic that has plagued Democrats for the past few cycles.
But we can look at state-level polling as well. In 2016, Trump (somewhat infamously) never led in a poll in Wisconsin. He was never within more than three points of Clinton there. He led in a single poll in Michigan and a single poll in Pennsylvania. His lead in North Carolina never exceeded two points in the RCP averages, while in Florida, his largest lead was 1.2 points.
The 2020 comparison is even more striking. Trump led Biden in Florida in the RCP averages briefly, in October and March of that year. In Arizona, it was the same story. North Carolina was a little better for Trump, as he led in the RCP averages perhaps a quarter of the time. In Ohio, Trump led in only six polls all cycle. He led in five polls in Pennsylvania. In Michigan it was five polls, and in Wisconsin, it was four.
To put this in even deeper perspective, Mitt Romney never led President Barack Obama in the RCP Average in Wisconsin (and led in just three polls), Pennsylvania (likewise, he led in just three polls), Michigan (he led in just eight polls), or Ohio (Romney led 10 polls all cycle). Things were a bit sunnier for Romney in Florida, where he had leads in the low single digits frequently. The same is true for North Carolina, although Obama led there until May.
What does the state polling show today? Trump leads in the RCP Average in Michigan for the first time, ever.
Pennsylvania? He leads for the first time ever, and has led in most polls.
He narrowly trails Biden in Wisconsin but has already led in almost as many polls as he led in the state in 2016 and 2020 combined. His 0.7% deficit compares to his previous best showing in the state: A 3.5% deficit in August of 2020.
Florida? Trump has led or tied in every poll, including some double-digit leads.
Arizona? He leads by five in the RCP Average.
Georgia? He leads by six.
Ohio? Polling is sparse, but he leads by 10.
In other words, analyzing this election correctly isn’t just a matter of giving lip service to the notion that Trump can win this election. The correct position right now is that Trump is better positioned in the polls to win this election than any GOP nominee since at least 2004. Not only that, he habitually over-performs his polls. Frankly, if you are willing to set favorites this far out, you should almost certainly declare Donald Trump the favorite.
Does any of this mean that Trump will win the presidency in 2024? Absolutely not. There are good arguments why perceptions of the economy will improve between now and then (although maybe they won’t). Perhaps Trump will under-perform his polling this time, as the GOP did in 2022 (although, maybe he won’t). There are good arguments that Trump’s criminal trials will erode his standing in the polls (although having watched Trump scandals unfold for the better part of four decades now, maybe they won’t).
These all make for fun speculation and are useful reminders that if a week is a lifetime in politics, then a year is, well, a very, very long time. Analysts should, of course, feel free to indulge in gaming out the possibilities.
But when the conversation returns to what we do know, there honestly is only one correct answer: Trump can win this election, and is well-positioned to do so.
This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.
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