Coming into the Presidential Election cycle the odds were on the side of Donald Trump winning reelection. Why? Well, 65% of Presidents who run for reelection win.
There is a clear incumbency advantage. There are other numbers that come into play, based on a president’s approval ratings as we close in on Election Day. A Presidential reelection bid is first and foremost a referendum on the incumbent President. History has shown that if people are generally satisfied with the performance of the President, they'll vote to stay with him. That necessarily makes the relevance of the challenger a secondary consideration. In this story, I've taken the historical approval ratings of incumbent presidents running for reelection and tracked the outcomes of those elections. In so doing I’m able to project historical reelection odds for President Trump based on his current ratings.
As of today, 38% based on a 44% average approval rating across all samples, that's flat versus last week. Furthermore, 42% based on a 45% average approval rating with likely voters, that's down 2% compared to last week. The past week brought about a slew of new polls, the most of any week this cycle, and showed a settling out the slight convention bump President Trump received in national polls in the prior week. President Trump still performs best when only likely voter samples are used, however, his support declined by two points among likely voters this week. A key number to watch, as we advance towards Election Day is 47%. Most incumbent Presidents with at least a 47% approval rating win reelection. President Trump sits just below that level leaving him as a slight underdog at the moment. This is reflected in the betting odds this week as well. A week ago, gamblers were split evenly at 50-50 odds. This week Biden is showing a 54% to 46% advantage.
Given that President Trump continues to perform meaningfully better with likely voters, as opposed to adult-only samples, the opportunity and challenge, for Biden remains converting more adults who currently aren’t likely to vote into likely voters. As for President Trump, this week’s polling shows the economy is the top issue for likely voters for the first time this year. It now polls 12% higher than any other issue. Focus on economic successes while pressing full speed ahead on any and all policy to continue to speed up the recovery from the virus-induced recession. Polling has consistently shown Trump with a lead on the economy compared to Biden. The economy being the top issue plays to his strengths.
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