For those who want to look at these polls or the current political climate to try to gather something about the next presidential general election, I have only one thing to say: Stop. Neither the current presidential election nor the current political climate tell us much about what will happen in the 2024 general election.
Let’s start with a poll (i.e. a match between two candidates). There have been seven previous election cycles before this one where a vote was taken between an incumbent and their last challenger around this point in the cycle.
When you match the poll and the final return, the relationship is statistically insignificant.
The average difference is 8 points between the voting margin and the actual electoral margin. Back in 2017, Biden had an 11-point advantage at this point. In the end, he defeated Trump in the popular vote by almost 4.5 points – a difference of almost 7 points from the early voting.
However, keep in mind that the average difference between the poll and the results in a small historical sample may underestimate the potential difference in the future. Taking into account past differences along with sample size (seven elections), the 95% confidence interval for pollutant prediction is close to +/- 30 points.
Indeed, Harry Truman had a 28-point advantage over Thomas Dewey in the late 1945 poll. He would have won in 1948, but only by 4.5 points.
Either way you look at it, the poll doesn’t tell us anything about how things will change in 2024.
A big reason voting at this point is so unpredictable is that we really don’t know what the political environment will be like on Election Day 2024.
The best way to measure the political climate, especially if Biden ends up becoming his party’s nominee, is the presidential approval rating.
But when you look at the president’s net approval rating at this point and compare it to its results in the next presidential election, there isn’t any connection.
For 10 presidents since World War II who will continue to seek another term, there is an average difference of 29 points between their actual approval ratings at this point and at the time of the election.
Given that two of the last four presidents (Clinton and Trump) have a net approval rating increase of about 10 points or more between this point and when they encounter re-election, it would be silly to bet backwards. Biden did the same thing.
You’ll also notice that Clinton and Trump have seen their parties besieged midterms.
There are many presidents (such as Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George HW Bush in 1992) who have lost re-election even though their parties have outperformed the historical average in previous terms. There are many presidents (such as Clinton in 1996 and Barack Obama in 2012) who have won elections even when their parties underperformed the historical average in midterms.
On the other hand, there are presidents whose party suffered minimal damage mid-term (like Richard Nixon in 1970) and easily won re-election.
The bottom line: The poll right now tells us about the current political climate moving into midterms. But the data we’re examining at this point and even a year from now doesn’t tell us much about what happens after that.