Looking to the 2024 presidential race, Donald Trump is ahead where it counts: in electoral votes. While national polls show a dead heat, they do not tell the whole story. If the battleground states break the way current polling shows, Trump has the chance to break his electoral vote margin of victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016. And all this could occur regardless of how the popular vote plays out next November and despite the numerous, well-publicized criminal and civil indictments against him.
On Oct. 19, Bloomberg-Morning Consult released a series of polls in seven battleground states (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennslyvania, and Wisconsin). Although his lead is within the polls’ margins of error, Trump leads in five of the seven states. In the other two, he is tied in Michigan and trails by just 3 percentage points in Nevada. To put this into 2024 context: Trump lost six of these states in 2020, winning only North Carolina.
While Bloomberg-Morning Consult did not release a national poll, RealClearPolitics’ Oct. 19 average of national polling showed Biden and Trump tied at 43.9 percent apiece.
When is a tie a loss in presidential elections? When it occurs in the popular vote — but not in the Electoral College vote. That is because the electoral vote determines the winner; the popular vote is just for show.
Think it cannot happen? It already did in 2016. Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by 2.1 percentage points (45.9 percent to 48 percent), but he beat her 306 to 232 where it counted.
Think it cannot happen again? If Bloomberg-Morning Consult’s numbers are accurate, it is well on its way. Of the seven battleground states they just polled, Trump won all but Nevada in 2016.
Starting from the 2020 electoral vote outcome that Trump lost to Biden 232-306, here is a breakdown of the 2024 electoral college math and what the seven battleground state polls tell us.
Trump automatically picks up three electoral votes from his 2020 total due to reapportionment from the last census. So, just holding his 2020 states, Trump now trails 235-306.
Next add in the states he lost in 2020 (Arizona, Georgia, Pennslyvania, and Wisconsin) where Bloomberg-Morning Consult’s polls show him currently leading. Together, they account for 56 electoral votes. Add those 56 electoral votes to the Trump column and subtract them from the Biden column, and you get Trump winning 291-247 — even if he wound up losing Michigan (where he is tied) and Nevada (where he trails by 3 percentage points).
Because the magic number of electoral votes needed to win the White House is just 270, Trump would not need to win all four of the battleground states where he now leads. Trump could get to 270 by just winning Pennsylvania and Georgia. Under any scenario, he could break 270 by winning just three of the four — again assuming he still loses Michigan and Nevada.
What do 2016 and 2020 tell us? Democrats need to win by more than 2.1 percent (with which Clinton lost) and up to 4.4 percent (with which Biden won). Take the midpoint, and you get 3.25 as a rough minimum of popular vote cushion that a Democrat running against Trump needs to win the electoral vote.
Of course, this is just a rough assumption. Remember that Biden’s 4 percentage point margin still only amounted to squeaker 2020 wins in six of those seven battleground states which proved pivotal in his victory.
The bottom line is that Biden needs a big popular vote cushion to be competitive with Trump in the electoral vote. Effectively, despite being tied with Trump in the popular vote now, Biden is well below the cushion he needs to win the White House.
So where does Biden’s needed boost in the polls come from?
Foreign policy? It is hard to see his record improving so dramatically that it helps him in his domestic poll numbers.
The economy? The economy has had only mediocre real growth for most of his presidency, while inflation has raged.
The border crisis? This is a crisis of his own making, so fixing the mess — which his recently announced 20 miles of new wall will hardly do — he made hardly equates to a victory.
America’s urban chaos? It is hard to imagine this getting better without tough policing reforms — reforms that Biden’s left flank opposes. So, do not expect a change here because Biden desperately needs his left in 2024.
Of course, Trump could make his own mistakes that will help Biden. Yet the converse also holds: Biden is more than capable of making things worse for himself over the next year.
Biden is now behind where it counts. He needs to run well ahead in the popular vote to erase his Electoral College vote deficit. Yet none of the major issues likely to influence voters look likely to significantly improve for him over the next year. If they do not, Biden could find himself losing Michigan and Nevada as well. If so, Trump would win 21 more electoral votes and finish with 321: nine more than his victory over Clinton in 2016.
To drive home the point of Biden’s uphill struggle, consider that Trump’s leads have come while facing well-publicized legal issues. He is facing four separate indictments in four states (New York, Florida, D.C., and Georgia) and 91 felony counts. While most are focusing on when trials will begin (the first is currently scheduled to begin March 4, 2024, in Washington, D.C., on election interference charges), the more pertinent dates for current polling are when the charges were brought.
The first indictment occurred in New York on March 30, 2023; the latest occurred in Georgia on Aug. 23, 2023. That means charges have hung over Trump for seven months, and all four indictments have for over two months. All have received massive media coverage, yet Trump is still leading in five of the seven battleground states. Rather than weakening Trump, Democrat prosecutors and media persecutors may instead have inoculated him. If so, Biden’s climb will be even steeper still.