Could Trump really win in 2024?

A CNN opinion survey in September showed that Trump and Biden have about the same amount of support among voters.

Matt Holland

Could Trump really win in 2024?

A former president of scandals, court cases, and sharp polarisation of the American political stage is now on trial in four different cities. And maybe Donald Trump will return to the Oval Office after the November 2024 election.

The Democratic Party is not panicking, but it is worried. Each week shows new political weaknesses for Joe Biden, while Trump’s legal problems seem not to hurt him politically. The election is more than a year away, but another Trump surprise like the 2016 election is not impossible.

A CNN opinion survey in September showed that Trump and Biden have about the same amount of support among voters. The CNN poll showed Trump ahead with 47% support compared to Biden with 46% support. An August opinion survey by the Wall Street Journal showed each had 46% support. This is amazing, considering Trump’s legal problems.

A trial in New York starting in March 2024 on the accusation of falsely reporting Trump’s businesses’ records to hide payments to a sex actress to buy her silence about their relationship.

A trial in Florida also starting in March 2024 on the accusation of Trump illegally keeping secret government documents at his hotel and residence in Mara Logo.

A trial in Washington also starting in March 2024 on the accusation of Trump trying to stop the implementation of the 2020 election results and encouraging the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

In addition to these three trials, Trump also faces a trial in Georgia, where the state’s prosecutor has brought an accusation Trump tried to change the election results in that critical state. No date for the trial start has been set yet.

A CNN opinion survey in September showed that Trump and Biden have about the same amount of support among voters. The CNN poll showed Trump ahead with 47% support compared to Biden with 46% support.

After Trump's defeat in the 2020 election and his legal problems, many political observers expected Florida Governor Ron DeSantis would compete strongly against Trump. Instead, DeSantis has shown he has a cold, boring personality.

Another Republican candidate, former ambassador to the United Nations Niki Hailey, has impressed some observers for being articulate and mindful of women voters. However, like DeSantis, she has not approached Trump's popularity among Republican Party voters.

Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during the 2023 First in the Nation Leadership Summit on October 13, 2023, in Nashua, New Hampshire.

The Party primaries start in four months, but no serious challenger to Trump has emerged. He declined to join the first debate among Republican candidates held on August 23. Some observers called the debate among the other candidates only a "table for children."

Enduring popularity of Trump

In America of the past century, criminal cases like those that Trump faces would stop any candidate, Republican or Democrat. But a large part of America loves Donald Trump no matter what he does.

According to monthly IPSOS opinion polls, Donald Trump's popularity has remained at about 40% for the last two years. This solid Make America Great Again base doubts that Joe Biden won the 2020 election fairly.

This Trump base of white, working-class voters rejects the evolution of America into a multicultural society where minority identities are highlighted in politics, Hollywood, the media and places of work.

They want much of the political establishment and some government institutions torn down. Some even argue that America is a constitutional republic but not a democracy. Trump has always pledged he would destroy the old establishment.

His rhetoric in 2024 is hotter than ever against the federal government. When Trump ignores traditions and rules, his base responds favourably.  Four criminal court cases?  

No big problem for his base or even for the entire Republican Party. In fact, Trump turns the accusations against him into warnings that the Democratic Party uses government institutions to destroy conservatives, justifying the Republican Party's claims it is a victim of leftist oppression.

Facts do not matter. After all these court cases began, a public opinion survey by the Morning Consult group at the beginning of September showed that 76% of Republican voters have a favourable impression of Donald Trump; inside that 76%, the MAGA base of about 40% has a very favourable impression.

This popularity has made Trump's Republican Party competitors at the "children's table" cautious. If they attack him, their popularity among Republican voters diminishes. Former Vice President Mike Pence finally started to criticise Trump in September, and his popularity has dropped, according to opinion surveys.

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump during their final debate of the 2020 election campaign at the University of Tennessee on October 22, 2020.

Biden's weaknesses

It helps Donald Trump's chances of winning in the 2024 election that President Biden does not yet appear to be a strong candidate. According to a September 5 CNN poll, only 39% of the Americans in the survey said Biden is doing a good job.

Other polls by IPSOS and the Wall Street Journal in August showed only about 40% of Americans expressed praise for Biden's performance. All these polls also show that between 54 and 60%  expressed dissatisfaction with his performance. These numbers have not changed much in the past two years.

When America is not at war, the economy is always the top political issue, and so far, Americans are unhappy with Biden. The CNN poll showed that 58% of the Americans in the survey expressed dissatisfaction with Biden's management of the economy.

This appears bizarre at first because unemployment is very low, there are many jobs for workers, the stock market is doing very well, and price inflation has diminished.

The price inflation of the past 18 months, however, was extremely high and every time we visit a grocery store, we can see a big difference from a year or two ago. Everything we buy, from cars to toothpaste, is more expensive.

Higher prices for food, cars, rents and houses are especially painful for middle-class families and especially younger Americans. Prices are not increasing as fast as they were a year ago, but they are not dropping, and, thus, the economy is not yet helping Joe Biden politically.

In addition to the economy, Joe Biden's age is a constant question. It is important to remember he is the oldest president in American history. Two separate polls during the summer showed that about three-quarters of Americans think Biden is too old to be president.

Matt Holland

He would be 86 in 2028 at the end of a second term if he wins in 2024. (Before Biden, Ronald Reagan, who enjoyed big popularity, was the oldest president. He was 77 years old when his second term ended in 1988.)

America as a culture focuses on young people and their styles and tastes.  And the job of a president in terms of the work, making hard decisions, constant telephone calls and meetings, travel and public speaking every day is exhausting even for younger people.

(Barack Obama's hair turned grey while he was President. He was 55 years old when he left the Oval Office.)

An 86-year-old president is not so easy to imagine. Two-thirds of Democratic voters prefer that Biden not run for re-election, according to several opinion polls.

However, fear of Trump's return is helping an unpopular Biden forestall any challenge from inside the Democratic Party. Democratic politicians who might have challenged Biden, such as California Governor Gavin Newsome, instead, are urging Democratic unity under Biden's control in the fierce competition against the far-right leaning Republican Party.

In addition to the economy, Joe Biden's age is a constant question. It is important to remember he is the oldest president in American history. Two-thirds of Democratic voters prefer that Biden not run for re-election.

What to watch for in the next months

The American election is still far off, and much can change. Moreover, while Trump has a strong base, about 50% of voters consistently have an unfavourable impression of him, according to the monthly IPSOS opinion surveys.

Trump appeared in court in Miami for an arraignment regarding 37 federal charges, including violations of the Espionage Act, making false statements, and mishandling of classified material after leaving office.

That makes winning harder for Trump.

In the 2020 election, Democrats and independents came together to vote in favour of Biden by narrow margins in key states like Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Pennsylvania.

Strong Republican Party rejection of the right of American women to have an abortion, and regular threats from Republicans about the danger of violence if Trump loses in 2024 will boost support for Biden.

He will need that support.

Only the large mobilisation of voters who rejected Trump enabled Biden to win in 2020. And with his age and centrist politics, he may be unable to mobilise enthusiastic support from the left side of the Democratic Party, especially younger voters.

Biden, in the next year, may pursue more leftist policies to mobilise the younger side of the Democratic Party.

Such a Biden move would have risks, notably from a group of centrist Republicans and Democrats who might propose a third candidate in the 2024 presidential election. Democrats fear that such an independent third candidate would attract centrist voters away from Biden while Trump's Republican base would remain loyal to Trump.

In this case, it might be possible for election results in some key states to resemble this: about 46% for Trump, 44% for Biden and 10% for the third-party candidate.

Trump would not win a majority of votes in such states, but he would get the largest number of votes and thus all their electoral college votes in the presidential election. Independent third candidates helped Bill Clinton win in 1992, and George W. Bush in 2000.

For this reason, Democratic Party leaders and financial donors are warning centrist politicians urgently not to propose an independent third candidate.

Could history repeat?

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