The Washington brief

Special Commentary

April 30, 2024

Two flawed candidates, divergent polling, and potential VP candidates

Executive summary

  • Biden developments: President Biden’s polling bump following the State of the Union in March has faded. Yet, President Biden’s resource and organizational advantages at this point are huge, including a nearly 2-to-1 cash advantage over President Trump, which could be key to determining close state elections in the fall. Current polls notwithstanding, we believe this is still President Biden’s election to lose.
  • Trump developments: President Trump continues to lead polls in each of the seven battleground states that we view as critical for this election. However, we view President Trump’s criminal proceedings as a negative wildcard that could turn off voters.
  • Trump’s VP Pick: President Trump’s forthcoming vice-presidential candidate selection will be critical for his campaign. We currently view Ohio Senator J.D. Vance as the top contender; however, there are at least 10 other potential nominees under consideration.

Our Take

Recent polling data favors Trump

The most recent Bloomberg/Morning Consult poll indicates that the State of the Union bump President Biden received in March has faded, showing former President Trump ahead 49% to 43% nationally. Moreover, President Biden’s job approval rating is now at just 39%, with the economy the top concern among those surveyed. Furthermore, this same poll also has President Biden trailing in each of the seven states we consider will determine the election.

In other recent national polls, the numbers were similar or slightly reversed. An April 22nd Marist poll had Trump at 48% and Biden at 51%, with the Biden approve/disapprove number 45%/51%. Separately, an NBC News poll published last week has Trump at 46% and Biden at 44% with the presidential approval/disapproval number at 42%/56%.

While late April polling data is often consistent with the final election outcome, we view President Trump’s criminal proceedings as a negative wildcard that could alter future polling. Most polls indicate that a Trump conviction would turn off a significant portion of voters, which could be enough to tip the election.

Fundraising and organizational efforts favor Biden

Recent campaign filings show that President Biden maintains nearly a 2-to-1 cash advantage over President Trump ($85.0 million to $45.5 million), which could be key to determining close state elections in the fall. President Biden also has the advantage of so-called soft money spent on his behalf, which was nearly an $800 million more President Trump in 2020. Besides the fundraising gap, President Trump has needed to divert substantial campaign contributions to finance his legal bills.

Additionally, Biden has 24 field offices in Pennsylvania alone and has opened 76 more locations across eight other key states. He is also outspending Trump 15-to-1 in the battleground states. While it is true that Secretary Clinton outspent candidate Trump 2-to-1 in 2016, she did not make the same investments in staff, get-out-the-vote efforts, and other “ground game” areas that Biden is making now. Importantly, then-candidate Trump was not stuck in legal proceedings in 2016 with their associated time constraints and financial burdens. Current polls notwithstanding, we believe this is still President Biden’s election to lose given the huge soft and dark money advantages held by Biden and the Democratic party.

VP candidates under consideration

We expect President Trump to extract the maximum political value out of his selection of a running mate. That will continue to garner significant national attention. Consistent with the notion that President Trump will work the process hard, the list of potential candidates has grown increasingly long. Whomever is chosen must be quite disciplined, understand their “role,” and not step on candidate Trump’s toes.

Currently, we view Senator J.D. Vance as the top contender. Other potential nominees under consideration include former Secretary Ben Carson, Tucker Carlson, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Arkansas Governor Sarah Sanders, Representative Elise Stefanik, Vivek Ramaswamy, Senator Marco Rubio, and South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem. Several others are also under consideration, including Representative Byron Donalds and Senator Tim Scott. 

Bottom line

Given two flawed candidates, this is obviously a very close race. While President Trump’s previous election results outperformed his polling data, we view his current numbers as much closer to reality. However, we also expect voter apathy to negatively impact turnout in November. This likely means that notably close margins in a small number of states where the difference will come down to resources and campaign organization will have a significant impact on the ultimate outcome. We believe this is still President Biden’s election to lose.

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