Road to the 2024 US Presidential Election: Memorial Day Update | Brunswick Group

Road to the 2024 US Presidential Election

Memorial Day Update
Brunswick US Public Affairs, Policy & Regulatory Practice Group


The United States is nearly five months away from a presidential election that continues to defy historical norms. President Joe Biden has the lowest level of support of any incumbent in modern history. His opponent, former President Donald Trump, is currently on trial in New York facing 34 felony counts.


Despite the unprecedented factors shaping the presidential election, as well as the volatility at home and abroad, the standing in the race between the two candidates has remained relatively static over the past six months, with Trump maintaining a narrow but consistent lead nationally. More importantly, in the pursuit of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the election, Trump also holds clear leads in four of the six battleground states that will likely determine the outcome in November, according to Cook Political Report.

In Congress, Republicans are favored to take control of the Senate. Democrats have all but lost West Virginia following Senator Joe Manchin’s decision not to seek reelection, and they are defending seven additional seats that are currently considered competitive by Cook Political Report. None of the Republican-held seats in the Senate that are up for reelection in 2024 are considered at risk. Control of the House is considered a toss-up, with Republicans defending 22 competitive seats and the Democrats defending 24 competitive seats.

The outcomes of these elections carry tremendous policy and regulatory implications. Emboldened by reelection, Biden would likely use executive action to expand on his first-term signature policy wins, particularly in areas like energy, financial services and healthcare. Executives should expect that in a second term, Biden and his team would double down on their efforts to expand the country’s infrastructure and green manufacturing capabilities, as laid out in the Inflation Reduction Act and other key policies.

Should Trump return to the White House, he would likely seek to dismantle many of Biden’s signature achievements while preserving protectionist policies such as tariffs on goods from China and efforts to further promote American manufacturing and “reshoring.” Trump would likely try to preserve key elements of his signature Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that are scheduled to sunset in 2025. His administration would also likely move to deregulate several industries and advance efforts to eliminate civil service protections for some in the federal bureaucracy.

Despite what hangs in the balance, this is the first presidential election in contemporary American politics that is more squarely about the past than the future. As a result, each candidate is not campaigning on his proposals going forward but rather on relitigating his prior record. This focus will be the defining element of each campaign in the months leading up to election day. 

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Brunswick’s US Public Affairs, Policy & Regulatory practice will be providing timely updates on the key political dynamics and developments shaping the 2024 election cycle. The practice is also developing a series of policy notes that lay out the differences between the candidates’ likely second-term agendas across key sectors and how the results in November will impact business in what may be a very different Washington. The first note in that series can be found here.

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Mood of the country

For the past 20 years, a majority of voters have consistently believed that the country is headed in the wrong direction – regardless of which party is in power. In the average of recent polling on the issue by RealClearPolitics, over 65% of Americans believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction.

Biden’s job approval has been underwater since the summer of 2021, and consumer confidence has declined for the past three months, dropping to the lowest level since July 2022. Inflation, which peaked in June 2022 at 9.1% and has since backed off to 3.4% in April of this year, continues to weigh on voters’ impressions of their financial standing. For the past two years, a majority of Americans have felt that the cost of living has increased faster than their family’s income, according to polling from NBC released in late April. This sentiment has shaped how voters perceive Biden’s handling of the economy and therefore his overall job approval.

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The 2024 presidential election

As a general rule in politics, the candidate who controls the narrative of the campaign usually wins the election.

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The foundation of Trump’s narrative is that he is strong and Biden is weak on a number of issues important to voters. The economy and immigration are two of these issues, and ones on which Trump holds a commanding lead in the polls. These issues have and will continue to drive the Trump campaign strategy.

Biden, on the other hand, will seek to make the election about Trump. His campaign will argue that four more years under Trump’s leadership would be a threat to our democracy at home and unravel our global alliances throughout the world. Biden will also portray Trump as seeking to take away certain rights for some Americans, namely women’s access to abortion. Beyond this focus on Trump, Biden will also seek to emphasize his major policy achievements on the campaign trail. 

What is likely driving Trump’s advantage on several key issues is that the American public holds more fond memories of the Trump presidency compared to Biden’s term in office. In an April CNN poll, 55% of registered voters viewed Trump’s time in office favorably – a 13-point jump in perception from when he left office in January 2021.

The Electoral College

Electoral College voting continues to favor the GOP (the last two Republicans elected president lost the popular vote). Due to a reallocation of electoral votes based on the most recent census, the new electoral college map is six points more favorable to the Republicans compared to 2020. In a close election, which 2024 is certain to be, the same handful of states that determined the results in 2016 and 2020 will likely play the same pivotal role this November.

There are three battleground states in the Midwest – Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – and three in the Sun Belt – Arizona, Georgia and Nevada, totaling 77 electoral votes.

Biden’s best path to winning the election appears to be through the three Midwestern states where he is most competitive compared to the Sun Belt states where Trump is beating him outside the polling margin of error. Should Biden win Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, he would also need to hold Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district to earn the 270 electoral votes needed to win the election.

Biden’s dependency on carrying these Midwestern states is largely due to his decreased support in the Sun Belt, which skews toward a higher percentage of younger and nonwhite voters. Biden’s support with these voters has eroded since he became president. In fact, since the 2020 election, Biden’s support among young voters has dropped 18% and his support among Hispanic and Black voters has dropped by 16% with each group, according to the NBC poll.

Trump has a number of paths to victory, particularly if he carries Georgia, where he is favored to win. By carrying Georgia, he would only be 19 electoral votes short with multiple paths to 270.

The impact of third-party candidates

Third-party candidates are a wild card. They could have a direct impact on the outcome of the election – as they did in 2016 – if they are able to get on the ballot in the battleground states.

At this point, Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate who will likely draw support away from Biden, has qualified to be on the ballot in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose base of support may come from both Biden and Trump voters, has thus far only qualified to be on the ballot in Michigan and none of the other battleground states.

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Key swing voters

There are four groups of swing voters who could play a pivotal role in the election:

  • Double haters: Polling has consistently shown that 20% of voters dislike both Biden and Trump. In 2016, 18% of voters were double haters and Trump carried them by 17 points.
  • Voters that have abandoned Biden: Biden has lost significant support across voter groups compared to the 2020 election. His support with the following groups has particularly been eroded:
    • Non-white, not college-educated: In the past, these voters have consistently supported the Democrats, but Biden’s support from these groups has dropped by 10 points since he became president, according to a mid-April New York Times and Sienna College poll.
    • Young people: While young voters have historically supported the Democrats, the NBC poll showed Trump holding a single-point lead among voters aged 18-29.
  • Anti-Trump Republicans: Throughout the primaries, there was a sizable group of Republicans who voted against Trump and remain up for grabs. Despite dropping out of the race in early March, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley continued to win a meaningful number of votes in recent Republican primaries, including in Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania where she earned over 17%, 13% and 16% of the vote, respectively. Something to watch in the coming months will be if these voters migrate towards Trump following her announcement yesterday that she will vote for the former president.
  • Independents: A traditional group of swing voters, Independents have supported the winning candidate in the last four presidential elections. Biden carried these voters by 13 points in 2020, though Trump currently holds a three-point lead, according to the NBC poll.

What to watch

During this period of political volatility, it is difficult to anticipate how the remaining five months will play out. There are four upcoming events that could play a role in determining the outcome of the election:

  • Trump's New York trial: If he is acquitted or there is a hung jury, Trump would likely benefit from his trial in New York. If he is found guilty, it could hurt him with double haters, as well as some Republican and Independent voters.
  • The debates: Biden and Trump have agreed to two debates – June 27 on CNN and September 10 on ABC. The vice-presidential candidates are expected to debate sometime this summer on CBS. Trump is pushing for additional debates as well.
  • The vice-presidential nominees: Despite the fact that historically, vice-presidential nominees have not had a decisive impact in determining the outcome of presidential elections, they could play a key role in this election. If Trump selects a nominee who reassures reluctant Republican voters who dislike him, this could make a difference in the outcome. At the same time, many swing voters have deep reservations about Vice President Kamala Harris, which, given Biden’s age, could determine who they support in November.
  • The conventions: The war in Gaza has divided the wings of the Democratic Party, a dynamic which could be on full display – both inside and outside the hall – during the Democrats’ convention in August.

Voter turnout

At this point, there are a number of indicators that suggest turnout in November will be lower than in the last three elections. The most obvious is the lack of enthusiasm about a Biden vs. Trump rematch. At the beginning of the campaign, 59% of voters thought that both candidates were too old to serve a second term, according to a February ABC News / Ipsos poll.

In a March Gallup poll, 41% of voters reported they were less enthusiastic about voting in the upcoming election compared to previous elections, which is a 17% decrease compared to this point in 2020. Due to these trends, turning out the vote this November will be as important as winning over swing voters.

Implications for business

The turmoil that has come to define our political moment will only increase as the election nears. In the months to come, rhetoric from both campaigns, along with potential inflection points on a host of key issues in the race, could increase pressure on businesses to comment on political matters. A disputed election outcome would add to this pressure, creating a vacuum in leadership and uncertainty. In such an environment, corporate leaders will need to project stability to their workforce, investors, customers, suppliers and partners while avoiding being entangled in a fraught national debate.

Given these enhanced risks, as well as the inevitability of change following any outcome in November, it is imperative for businesses to start planning now, recognizing that the time for proactive anticipation and adaptation is rapidly diminishing.