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Polling predicts Trump-Biden rematch, but key questions remain

Aug 28, 2023

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Early polling for the 2024 presidential election reveals Donald Trump dominating the GOP field with no contender in sight, while President Joe Biden is performing evenly against him. Yet with so much of Trump’s near-term future now in question, critics have wondered how helpful or relevant this polling data can be.

Straight Arrow News contributor David Pakman argues that while these numbers certainly suggest concrete trends, it’s too early to make conclusions. He notes that voters “don’t start paying attention” until after Labor Day and that up to 15% of independent and swing voters remain undecided. Lastly, if Trump is absent from all debates, could that actually help the Republican Party?

So then I said, “Okay, well, [political forecaster] Rachel [Bitecofer], what about the general election polling that says Trump and Biden are even or whatever?”

And one of the things Rachel pointed out is: a lot of those polls are like 45 to 43, or 43 to 44. When you add that up, you find that it adds up to somewhere between 85 and 90%.

Where is that other 10 to 15% of the electorate? And if you look at the methodology of the polls and the results, you find that there is between 10 and 15% of the electorate who says “I don’t know yet who I’m going to support”. We know that Joe Biden is going to win the state of New York and California. We know that Donald Trump or DeSantis, or whoever is the Republican nominee, is going to win North and South Dakota and Arkansas.

And so we know that the election actually is going to come down to a few states. It’s going to come down to Pennsylvania, and Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin. It’s going to come down to the swing states. And at this point in time, if 10 to 15% of the electorate just has not yet made up their mind, then we really can’t say very much at all about Biden is likely to win or lose against this, that or the other candidate.

Is it simply too early for the polling to tell us anything at this point in time? I want to take a few minutes today to steal, man, this argument. We’ve all been looking at polling recently, polling that has Donald Trump in a commanding lead in the 2024 Republican primary, polling that has Joe Biden and Trump or Joe Biden and DeSantis, or Joe Biden and whoever, roughly even in the polling in hypothetical general election polls. 

 

My view thus far has been, these are valuable insights at this point in time because Trump’s lead is so overwhelming, etc. However, I recently interviewed political forecaster, PhD political forecaster, political scientist, Rachel Bitecofer, who’s super, super smart. And she successfully modified my thinking on both of these counts. 

When I asked Rachel is there anybody that can beat Trump, I mean, he’s got 55, close to 60% of the vote, nobody else is even close, DeSantis has lost more than half of his support, seems like it’s over. She said: “The numbers don’t tell us that much right now. Because voters don’t start paying attention, at least until after Labor Day, if not closer to November or December of the year before the election.” And her argument is sure, of the people that have a choice right now, Trump is winning in the Republican primary.

 

I pay attention. Many of my viewers pay attention because you’re in my audience, we pay attention to this stuff. But Rachel Bitecofer’s argument is: People aren’t paying any attention. And you may see a dramatically different texture invade the Republican primary once the debates start, which they now have, once we get into November, December, and we get closer to when people will actually be voting in early 2024. 

 

Absent that, this data is not worth very much. So then I said, okay, well, Rachel, what about the general election polling that says Trump and Biden are even or whatever? And one of the things Rachel pointed out is, a lot of those polls are like 45 to 43, or 43 to 44. When you add that up, you find that it adds up to somewhere between 85 and 90%.

 

Where is that other 10 to 15% of the electorate? And if you look at the methodology of the polls and the results, you find that there is between 10 and 15% of the electorate who says “I don’t know yet who I’m going to support”. We know that Joe Biden is going to win the state of New York and California, we know that Donald Trump or DeSantis, or whoever is the Republican nominee, is going to win North and South Dakota and Arkansas.

 

And so we know that the election actually is going to come down to a few states, it’s going to come down to Pennsylvania, and Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, it’s going to come down to the swing states. And at this point in time, if 10 to 15% of the electorate just has not yet made up their mind, then we really can’t say very much at all about Biden is likely to win or lose against this, that or the other candidate.

 

So I do think that the polling still gives us a sense of the state of the race among those who are paying attention. And those who are paying attention are related to those who are not. And so I don’t think it’s completely true, that the current polling tells us nothing about where these elections are going.

 

But it is absolutely the case, that certainly 10% and probably 4% to 5%, one way or the other, in a number of states, can be a complete difference maker when it comes to this election. And that is the analysis that I think going into more and more debates taking place is useful to us, as we continue to watch the debates, things I will be paying attention to will be first of all, does Donald Trump end up showing up to any of the debates or is he bailing out on all of the debates?

 

Secondly, absent Trump’s presence, do Republican candidates shift who they attack based on polling? Or does that not change what’s going on? For example, when you remove Trump, DeSantis is currently winning, Vivek Ramaswamy second. They are getting the bulk of the attacks from other candidates looking to claw their way into the numbers. Does that change? If Chris Christie all of a sudden ends up in second place, does Chris Christie start being the one that is attacked? Or is the focus of the attacks more personality-driven than it is related to polling? That is one question.

 

Secondly, I will be watching in Trump’s absence if indeed it continues. Do the anchors of the debates discuss Trump, or do they simply Ignore him? One last thing. Rachel Bitecofer also told me that one of the most dangerous reasons, one of the most dangerous aspects for Trump of not being at the debate is that it might remind Republican voters what the party was like before Trump and they might like it. Because without Trump there, there are fewer insults and there is at least a little bit more policy discussion. It may end up being a very dangerous choice for Donald Trump.

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