01.31.2024 0

Trump has led 65 percent of polls taken since December, Biden has only led 16 percent. Is the popular vote in play?

By Robert Romano

As the first month of 2024 draws to a close, former President Donald Trump appears to be widening his lead over incumbent President Joe Biden in the presidential race, averaging a 3.9 percentage point lead in the national popular vote polls taken according to RealClearPolling.com, 47.8 percent to 43.9 percent.

Over the past two months, Trump has led 24 out of the last 37 polls taken, or 65 percent. Biden has just led just six of them, or 16 percent. Seven were tied, or 19 percent.

As a result of Trump’s rally in recent months, the former president now leads exactly 50 percent of all the polls taken this entire cycle (and rising), 115 out of 230 going back to 2021. Biden led 83 of them, or 36 percent. And 32 of them, or 14 percent, were tied.

Compared to the 2020 cycle, when 293 polls were taken, Biden led 285 of them, or 97 percent.

And in 2016, Hillary Clinton led 219 out of 259 polls taken, or 85 percent of them.

Both predicted the Democratic candidates would win the popular vote in 2020 and 2016, respectively, and so to see the popular vote potentially in play for 2024 in favor of the Republican candidate is definitely remarkable.

In fact, no Republican has won the popular vote in a presidential election since George W. Bush did so in 2004. Otherwise, Republicans lost it in 2000, 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2020, and managed eke out Electoral College wins in 2016 and 2020 even without it.

Obviously, it is still early in the nominating process, with only Iowa and New Hampshire having casted votes. Incumbent presidents usually wrap up their nominations rather early, although the early contests of New Hampshire and South Carolina can often tell if an incumbent is particularly vulnerable in the general election.

In New Hampshire, Biden only managed to get 65 percent of the vote via a write-in campaign, a rather low number for an incumbent president in recent history. 35 percent wanted someone else. Undoubtedly that was owed in large part to Biden not appearing on the ballot, but a repeat of any magnitude in South Carolina would add to the questions of Biden’s viability against Trump, who is running away with Republican nomination so far.

At this point in the cycle in 1980, Gallup had Jimmy Carter up over Ronald Reagan by 30 points, and yet Reagan a year later won easily in a landslide, 51 percent to 41 percent, and winning 44 states.

On the other hand, 1948 stands out as a time when an incumbent president, Harry Truman, was behind in the polls for almost the entire cycle but then went on win, 49.6 percent to 45 percent, and winning 28 states.

Otherwise, the history is very consistent where incumbent presidents lead polls and go on to win. Barack Obama led the polls consistently in 2012, as did George W. Bush in 2004, Bill Clinton in 1996, Ronald Reagan in 1984, Richard Nixon in 1972, Lyndon Johnson in 1964, Dwight Eisenhower in 1956, and Franklin Roosevelt in 19361940 and 1944.

Whereas, incumbents who ended up trailing in the polls during the election year itself, with the exception of Truman in 1948, all lost, including Gerald Ford in 1976, Jimmy Carter in 1980 (by June 1980, Reagan was began to overtake Carter in the polls), George H.W. Bush in 1992 and Donald Trump in 2020.

Unfortunately for Biden, he appears to fare no better in a three-way race with Trump and Robert Kennedy, Jr.  or in a five-way race with Trump, Kennedy, Jill Stein and Cornell West, with Trump leading those, too.

There’s still some time for Biden to turn things around, but not too much, as voter attitudes set in. Once voters decide it’s time for a change, it’s hard to steer them from that objective. As usual, stay tuned.

Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government Foundation.

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