We still have well over a year until the next presidential election. Yet, pollsters are frequently asked who (or which party) will win the White House. Most questions begin with either a policy argument, or national polling statistics between Biden and any number of Republican candidates. Some people ask about age, and some about legal battles… But the questions that need to be asked are, “what are the battleground states, and which party is better suited to win a majority of Independents in those states?”
The Problem with National Polls
Data has shown that head-to-head nationwide presidential polls are fairly insignificant: they are OK to gauge sentiment, but awful at forecasting who will be the next president. This is because national polls are looking at the popular vote (essentially), and we do not elect a president by popular vote. If, in the past 6 elections you used the national polls to gauge who would win, you would be wrong one third of the time. So, these are not great forecasting tools.
Looking Back to Look Forward
What can we do to have a more ‘logical’ conversation? Take a look at the states that voted for either Biden or Trump by at least double digits (more than 10 points). In doing so, you’d see that 335 (out of 538) Electoral College votes are pretty much already out of reach for the opposition party. It is possible that something could happen, and you could see an 11-point swing in one of these states but note that not one state had a double-digit swing from 2016 to 2020. So, let’s be ‘logical’ and assume that almost two-thirds of the nation’s electoral votes are already wrapped up.
Furthermore, in the 2020 election, 80 Electoral College votes were decided between 5 and 10 percent. These votes ‘lean’ toward one party or candidate a bit more than the other, but they are still more likely to vote for the candidate or party they voted for in the previous presidential election. Ohio, for example, will likely vote for the Republican candidate in 2024 due to a steady 8-point Republican advantage from the last two elections. Additionally, while Minnesota toed the line in 2016, it has not voted for a Republican since 1972.
This leaves the electoral map with only 8 states that are truly ‘up for grabs’ in 2024.
Forget National Polls, Focus on States
Of the 8 ‘battleground’ states, Trump won Florida and North Carolina, and Biden won Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Accounting for reapportionment, if Democrats take their 209 ‘solid’ votes and 17 ‘lean’ votes, that means they only need 44 ‘battleground’ votes to win.
On the other hand, if Republicans take their 125 ‘solid’ votes and 64 ‘lean’ votes, that means they need 81 ‘battleground’ votes to win.
Luckily, we can take the current temperature of 5 of the 8 battleground states, as they have active partisan voter registration statistics. Below is a table of the final active registration from the 2020 election, as well as recent (August 2023) registration data.
We see that current Republican registration margins are slightly better than they were on election day 2020 (to be expected as Republicans currently have the more hotly contested primary season). We could look at this data with Red-and-Blue tinted glasses and start talking about which states are doing better for Republicans (Florida), or which states still lean a bit Democratic (Pennsylvania)… But in looking solely at the data, and thinking logically, there is something more important at play.
In every toss-up state, “Independent/Other” voter registration is up compared to 2020. Heck, a plurality of Arizonans no longer register with one of the two major parties, and that is what this election is going to come down to: which party can win over the middle in the battleground states?
The 2020 nationwide exit polls showed that Biden gained 94 percent support from self-identified Democrats, while Trump received 94 percent of Republicans’ support. The difference that pushed Biden to victory is his collection of 54 percent support from the Independents. In 2016, Clinton received support from 89 percent of Democrats to Trump’s 88 percent of Republicans. However, Trump outperformed Clinton among Independents, giving him the pathway to the presidency.
If you want to have a ‘logical’ conversation for Presidential Elections, voter turnout of Democrats in California or Republicans in Wyoming is irrelevant. We know how these states are going to vote. National head-to-head polls also aren’t a surefire way to forecast elections.
What is important is how a candidate is catering their message to sway the Independent voters, specifically in the 8 swing states. And thankfully, that’s not too difficult to do. Take for example an article we wrote for AllSides regarding sentiment on the issue of energy and the environment; we see that 80% of Independents agree that human actions cause and/or accelerate climate change… If in the closing days of the election the final push is on energy and the environment, then the candidate with a message that is more in line with 8-in-10 Independents will win the election.
Now, this is not to say energy and the environment will be the deciding issue in 2024. But, this does show us how to answer the question of ‘who will win the presidency’: The candidate whose message more closely aligns with a majority of Independents on the issues that matter… And there you have it, a logical conversation about who will win the next election.