KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE
— Nearly 600 days before the election, an early citizen forecast — using voters’ expectations of likely election outcomes rather than vote intentions — estimates an even chance for a Republican or Democratic victory in the 2024 presidential election.
— However, while citizens estimate that Joe Biden and Donald Trump have about an even shot to emerge victorious, more voters see a pathway for a non-Trump Republican victory than for a non-Biden Democratic victory, indicating a divided and divisive Republican field.
How the public forecasts 2024
Although the 2024 U.S. presidential election will not take place for about a year and a half, already speculation mounts with respect to who will win, especially since President Biden has formally announced his candidacy. In terms of scientific methods for forecasting presidential elections, public opinion polls are routinely employed, mostly to survey the vote intention of respondents in national samples. But survey respondents can tell us more than just what they intend to do — they can also tell us what they expect about the upcoming election.
The use of vote expectations, as opposed to vote intentions, has come to be called Citizen Forecasting (CF), and this approach has a robust record of success. Responses to a key item, namely, “Who do you think will be elected President in November?” provide the core data for analysis. Past research has shown that aggregated responses to this pre-election question in the American National Election Study (ANES) time series generally produced the correct forecast. A 1999 investigation of these ANES data revealed that over the 11 presidential elections from 1956 through 1996 voters, in their majority, accurately forecast the winner in 9 of the 11 elections (missing only 1960 and 1980). The CF methodology has been successfully applied since, in US, UK, French, Canadian, and German elections, among other democracies. Most recently, with respect to the 2020 US presidential contest, it correctly forecast the Biden victory of 2020.
In this brief note, we would like to offer an early CF forecast of the upcoming 2024 contest, based on a national survey carried out in April 2023. Of course, things could change a good deal between now and then. Nevertheless, we believe in the merit of a “first sounding,” so to speak, especially because relatively new work indicates that, other things being equal, vote expectations forecast better than vote intentions.
Citizen forecasting allows us to take early, and repeated, estimations of the potential for candidate success. Using the 2023 Verasight MPSA Omnibus Study, which collected survey responses from 1,000 users from April 19 to April 27, we can measure the estimated chances of success for each major party. Verasight data is weighted to incorporate standard demographic characteristics and partisanship, and its survey sampling technique has a proven record of correctly forecasting elections. Survey respondents were asked to answer the following question: “Who do you think will win the 2024 US Presidential Election?”
Table 1: Voter expectations of which party is favored in the 2024 presidential election
Notes: Estimates calculated using survey weights for partisanship, age, gender, education, and location. The estimated margin of error is 3.6%.
Examining the two-party results of these estimations, we see that voters remain divided about how the election will turn out more than 560 days before the election, with both parties running neck and neck (as shown in Table 1). Approximately 52% of voters surveyed predict the Republican candidate’s eventual victory, while about 48% estimated a Democratic one. Given President Biden’s consistently low approval ratings and the public’s concerns about the state of the economy, voter uncertainty about the incumbent’s chances is a reflection of how well citizens recognize the impact of structural factors even well before the election.
Figure 1: Who respondents think will win the 2024 presidential election
Taken on its own, this might seem like bad news for the Democrats in 2024, but these results hide a more nuanced struggle, in that citizens are much less certain of which Republican will lead their party. While about an even number of voters expect Joe Biden and Donald Trump to win the presidential nomination, at 33% versus 30% respectively (Figure 1), forecasts about the Republican nominee show substantially greater disagreement, with more than 20% of citizens estimating someone other than Trump winning the election, compared to a slimmer 15% of Democrats. Almost 13% of respondents expect Ron DeSantis to carry the election in November 2024, an impressively high number given that he has not officially announced his candidacy and that this early in the race, name recognition plays a consistently powerful impact on voter support. Indeed, compared to a year previously, when asked a similar question, Verasight survey respondents have dramatically increased their estimations of DeSantis support, increasing his chance of winning by more than three times. While it seems unlikely at this point that any other candidate will overtake Trump in his pursuit of the nomination, a bruising and expensive primary election may shift the tides in favor of the Democrats and Joe Biden.
At more than a year and half before the election, before any candidate has even successfully clinched their party’s nomination, how much can we learn about voter expectations and election forecasting? Certainly, proximity to the election improves the accuracy of both citizen forecasts and vote intention models. But even this early on, citizens recognize the political context of the upcoming electoral contest — that little is certain, and that 2024 is likely to prove as dynamic and potentially contested as its preceding election. Fortunately, these first soundings suggest that we can trust citizens to help us make these predictions as we go.
|Debra Leiter is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science and Philosophy at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the secretary- treasurer of the Political Forecasting Group. Michael S. Lewis-Beck is F. Wendell Miller Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of Iowa. He has authored or co-authored over 325 books and articles and is a past president of the Political Forecasting Group of the American Political Science Association.|