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2024 presidential outlook: Meet the new race, same as the old race

Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin remain Toss-ups

The North Front of the White House is seen through the security fence on Oct. 6, 2022.
The North Front of the White House is seen through the security fence on Oct. 6, 2022. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

ANALYSIS — It’s not just the candidates who could look the same next fall.

With President Joe Biden’s reelection announcement this week and former President Donald Trump’s announcement last year, it looks like the old cast from the 2020 presidential race is back for a 2024 sequel. And the battleground of states is likely to look familiar as well. 

Four states rated as Toss-up are at the epicenter of the fight for the White House: Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Biden won each of them by 1 percentage point or less in 2020, and either party’s nominee will likely need to win three of the four states in 2024 in order to win nationwide. 

According to Inside Elections’ Baseline metric, Republicans have the advantage in two of the Toss-up states, Arizona (R +1.8 points) and Georgia (R +2.5 points), while Democrats have the advantage in the other two, Pennsylvania (D +4.1 points) and Wisconsin (D +1 point). Baseline takes the trimmed mean of all statewide and congressional results in the previous four cycles.

In total, 15 states carrying 217 Electoral College votes are rated as competitive across the Toss-up, Tilt, Lean and Likely categories, along with two single districts (and single Electoral College votes) in Maine’s 2nd District and Nebraska’s 2nd District. 

Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia start outside the initial battlefield with a Solid Democratic or Solid Republican rating. If each candidate wins where they are favored, those Solid states and districts would give the Democratic nominee 196 Electoral College votes, compared with 125 for the GOP nominee.

If each nominee adds Electoral College votes from the states rated as Tilt, Lean or Likely in their direction, the Democratic nominee would have a 247-235 advantage, still short of the 270 needed to win. The 235 for the GOP nominee comes from all of the same states Trump carried in 2020, when he finished with 232 Electoral College votes. The figure would be higher in 2024 because Trump states gained a net of three Electoral College votes during the post-2020 census reapportionment process. 

Democrats confident

Democrats are confident that Biden, who received 306 Electoral College votes in 2020, can beat Trump again. But unlike 2020, Biden is on track to be the unpopular incumbent on the ballot this time. Similar to 2022, Democrats will likely need a batch of voters who disapprove of the job Biden is doing and yet vote to give him another four years because they are more dissatisfied with their alternatives. 

Five states are rated as competitive but with an advantage toward the GOP nominee. North Carolina, which Trump won by 1.4 points in 2020, is rated Tilt Republican. Moving further away from Toss-up, Florida and Maine’s 2nd District are rated as Lean Republican. And Iowa, Ohio and Texas are all rated as Likely Republican on the edge of the battleground. 

Six states are rated as competitive but with an advantage toward the Democratic nominee. Biden won Michigan by 2.8 points and Nevada by 2.4 points in 2020, and both are rated as Tilt Democratic. Minnesota, New Hampshire and Nebraska’s 2nd District are rated as Lean Democratic. Virginia and Maine’s two statewide Electoral College votes are rated as Likely Democratic. 

Too early?

No, it’s not too early to talk about the presidential battlefield, because the underlying political dynamics don’t often shift dramatically in the months, or even a year, before an election.

Only one of the 37 states rated as Solid Republican or Solid Democratic by Inside Elections in April of 2019 was decided by less than 8 points in 2020: Trump won Texas by nearly 6 points.

Of course, the initial ratings weren’t perfect. Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota and Maine were rated as competitive but weren’t considered swing states by Election Day. But Arizona, Florida, Georgia, New Hampshire, Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and North Carolina were rated as competitive from beginning to end and arguably made the difference in the race, as Biden won seven of those nine contests.   

Even in 2016, the surprise was how well Trump performed within the battleground, not the size and shape of the battleground itself. Fourteen of the 15 closest states in the end were rated as competitive in early March 2015. Maine, which Hillary Clinton won by 3 points, was the only state with a margin less than 8 points that wasn’t rated as competitive 20 months before Election Day. Indiana and Missouri, which Trump won by 19 points each, were rated as Likely Republican and the only two states rated initially as competitive that were blowouts at the end.

So while it’s cliché to say that “a [insert time from here] is an eternity in politics,” the field of play doesn’t usually change dramatically because the partisanship of the states is so strong.

Here’s a rundown of the race rating for each state and how many Electoral College votes each has.

Toss-up (56)

  • Arizona (11)
  • Georgia (16)
  • Pennsylvania (19)
  • Wisconsin (10)

Tilt Republican (16)

  • North Carolina (16)

Tilt Democratic (21)

  • Michigan (15)
  • Nevada (6)

Lean Republican (31)

  • Florida (30)
  • Maine’s 2nd District (1)

Lean Democratic (15)

  • Minnesota (10)
  • Nebraska’s 2nd District (1)
  • New Hampshire (4)

Likely Republican (63)

  • Iowa (6)
  • Ohio (17)
  • Texas (40)

Likely Democratic (15)

  • Maine Statewide (2) 
  • Virginia (13)

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.

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