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Trump might be winning now, but here are four things that could change that

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As unlikely as it seemed four years ago, former President Donald Trump is the odds-on favorite to win the presidential election if it were held today. In presidential politics, things could change in a day with a court ruling, a scandal, a misstep or just a great campaign, but that’s the clear reality of today. 

Trump is leading President Joe Biden in the Harvard-CAPS/Harris polls by about 5 points and in the FoxNews polls by 3 points as of May 24. It is closer in the Real Clear Politics average that shows a gap of only 1.1%, but swing state polls across the media show Trump routs in almost all of them.   

Underlying the horse race are issue and performance dynamics that favor Trump by more than the horse race numbers: Trump’s personal favorable rating is actually higher than Biden’s, his job performance better by 11 points and Trump is winning key issues like the economy by wide margins. 

DEMOCRATS PRIVATELY CONCERNED BIDEN CAMPAIGN IS ‘DOOMED,’ WORRY TRUMP MAY EVEN WIN BLUE STATES: REPORT

But this race is far from over. Thirty-One percent of voters, including 44% of Independents, say that they are still weighing their choices. That’s a huge number for an election with known incumbents and good news for Biden. 

Donald Trump

Former President Donald Trump is in the lead for the presidency but it’s not over yet and there are several major things that could reset the political board. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Today, however, 55% of Americans look back and approve Trump’s job as president. In the Trump pre-pandemic years, roughly 70% of Americans thought the economy was strong, whereas they’ve been struggling with inflation for most of Biden’s term. And immigration, Trump’s signature issue, has exploded into the mainstream, even becoming the No. 1 voter concern for a couple of months earlier this year. 

Trump is under immense pressure but so far surviving unprecedented court cases. The Republican base is behind him and thinks the trials are political charades. Although 62% of Independents think Trump has committed crimes for which he should be convicted, they are split 55-45 on whether the prosecutions are fair and unbiased.  

Biden’s line that Trump is a “threat to democracy” isn’t resonating either with Independents split 51-49. January 6 is the most serious issue, but the Supreme Court’s review of key issues means it is unlikely that the case will go to court before Election Day.  

Biden’s problem is simple. His job rating is stuck in the low 40s and he has been unable to increase it so far. While inflation is reduced, prices are up about 20% from when he took office and that has created a lot of unhappy voters. If he can’t bring his rating up, he will have to bring Trump’s down and he will have a huge cash advantage to run paid media.  

Adding to his uphill climb are his ratings on the border and the Middle East. His approval rating on the border is 38% and on Israel-Hamas has dropped to a low of 36%. The more Biden has moved to left on Israel, the more swing voters are turning against him, and progressive voters still chanting “Genocide Joe,” so he seems to be making no one happy here.  

What’s going to change the dynamic of this election? 

First, the early debate is a Biden-inspired game changer that Trump was perhaps too quick to accept given very unfavorable terms. Expect the moderators to be gunning for the front-runner — Trump. Expectations for Biden are low and high for Trump and Trump may come off as too overbearing because he has been waiting a long time to go after Biden. An upset here from a more vigorous-looking Biden could be worth 2 to 4 points overnight and reframe the race. A weak performance by Biden could make for a very uneasy Democratic convention. 

Second, a smart Trump vice presidential pick could shake up the race. The best move would be to somehow make a deal with former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to win over her voters. But among those who have endorsed Trump already, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida are the top candidates who voters say would make them more likely to vote for Trump.  

Haley says she'll be voting for Donald Trump in the 2024 presidential election

Former U.N. ambassador and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is one possible Trump running mate. The former president’s choice could alter the math of the race. (Hudson Institute)

The GOP VP slot is the only way the 2024 ticket will be differentiated from the 2020 ticket, and Trump has the power to move the needle with more independent-minded voters here. A too-conservative pick would probably cost him votes as he seeks to reunite the Republican Party.  

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Third, the legal rulings will influence the outcome, starting with the New York case and then perhaps the Supreme Court ruling on the extent of presidential immunity. The effort to throw Trump off the ballot died quickly — will the attempt to convict and jail him recede as fast or fester throughout the election and his term?

No sense the Democratic prosecutors are giving up anytime soon and most voters think Trump is guilty of something. But an acquittal or hung jury in New York could be a major boost for Trump. 

Fourth, minority voters are indicating they may make something of a break with the Democratic Party and the reason appears to be economics. They usually come back on Election Day but Biden’s approval ratings among minority voters are surprisingly low for a Democratic president: 66% among Black voters, 53% among Hispanics and 37% with Asians.  

Adding to his uphill climb are his ratings on the border and the Middle East. His approval rating on the border is 38% and on Israel-Hamas has dropped to a low of 36%. The more Biden has moved to left on Israel, the more swing voters are turning against him, and progressive voters still chanting “Genocide Joe,” so he seems to be making no one happy here.  

Hispanic Americans, in particular, are more negative on their economic recovery compared to Black voters and so the exodus there is more likely to materialize. Fifty-two percent of Hispanic voters feel that their personal financial situation is worsening, while 49% of Black voters (a plurality) think theirs is improving.  

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Only 29% of Hispanic voters think we’ve made progress in getting inflation under control, compared to 42% of Black voters. Biden laid down a marker with his tough Morehouse speech on race in response to these developments and you can expect more of this from his camp. It has worked in the past.  

Conventions were typically big events, but there is no news coming out of these outside of the Trump VP pick and likely the audiences will shrink, favoring the debates instead. The next key date to evaluate this race is Labor Day, when the campaigns enter the election chute. So far, score Trump with an advantage.   

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