Can Biden win in 2024?

What are the factors that determine Biden’s chances in the 2024 presidential election?

Key forecasts

  • Probability Joe Biden will be elected president of the United States in the 2024 US presidential election: 34%
  • Biden’s chances if Pete Buttigieg announces his candidacy for the Democratic nomination drop to 12%
  • If Ron DeSantis stays out of the race Biden’s chances increase to 48%

Outlook

The median Swift Centre forecaster gives Joe Biden a 34% chance of winning the presidency in 2024. Those aren’t good odds for an incumbent president, who would usually expect to see a second term in office.


The scenarios in which Biden might lose can look very different from one another. In some of them, Joe Biden ends up out of power while the Democrats occupy the White House. He may not be well enough to run in 2024; he may face an internal challenger resulting in a new Democratic president. In others, Biden runs and loses.

For this piece, we asked our forecasters for the conditions that would substantially change their forecasts for the outcome in 2024, and elicited the group’s forecasts and rationales on each of them. We have analysed 15 potential events, some political, some economic, and aggregated forecasts on how likely they are, and their likely impact on the 2024 presidential election.

We have compiled these forecasts into the graphic below.

Note that our forecasters did not provide forecasts for every single scenario, so the implied probability of Biden’s success may occasionally deviate from our top-line prediction of 34% (but is still reflective of the impact we expect these different events to have).

Will Biden be the Democratic nominee?


To firm our footing for considering different scenarios, we started off by considering whether Biden would even be the Democratic nominee for the 2024 United States presidential election.

The consensus was that it’s probable, but not a given. “Base rates would suggest yes: it's very rare for parties to oust their presidents between their first and second terms,” said one, although it’s true that “Biden is very old relative to previous presidents, and you have polls showing most Democrats want him to step down.” Similarly, another felt that “It makes a lot of sense for them to retain the incumbency advantage, especially if the rest of his presidency goes smoothly and Trump is the Republican nominee. There are very few good alternatives for the Democrats.”

“Most presidents run again, Biden has always said he would,” says one. “So I think he probably will.”


If he is nominated, all else considered, they felt it was very much on a knife-edge. “I think on balance he likely loses to one of the challengers,” said one. “If he is the nominee, I’m giving him just slightly over even odds that he will be reelected.” But his chances strongly depend on who he is running against: “If he is Democratic nominee, he'll have incumbency advantage, more likely than not a reasonably strong economy by 2024, and will most likely be running against Donald Trump who is not very popular or electorally successful.” If he’s running against someone else, such as DeSantis, it would be a different story.

But what changes his chances of being the nominee? If he is the nominee, what might affect his chances of winning the presidential election?

Republican Party factors

What if Donald Trump runs for president?


The consensus was that Trump running is both likely and good news for Joe Biden. “He is likely to run for President thinking it will help him avoid prosecution, writes one, “but in recent weeks he is looking highly damaged, even in some right wing circles that I watch”. “Donald Trump is likely to run for president unless he is ineligible due to a felony conviction,” says another.

“If Donald Trump runs for president and if any Republican opposes him,” writes a third, “it will significantly split the Republican party, and will mean a very ugly primary battle that will alienate many voters for the general election.”

If he not only runs but also wins the Republican nomination, that’s probably even better for Biden. “I believe it greatly increases the chance that President Biden will seek a second term and will be nominated,” says one forecaster. “Biden has already beaten Trump once, so why would the Democrats not want to rerun the 2020 election? Plus, Biden's issues of age and lack of clarity in speech and debate are less of a problem when compared against Donald Trump.”

What if Trump is indicted on a felony charge by the end of 2022?

The “chaos” option. “This would clearly have a huge impact, but it's really not clear to me if it would increase or decrease Biden's chances,” writes one forecaster. Another agrees: “My answer here probably looks a bit weird – I think it changes the nature of the next election massively, but its effects on Biden's chances are unclear.”

The question is whether Trump being indicted makes him more or less likely to run. On the one hand, it would raise his profile, and give him an incentive to run – avoiding criminal charges. “An indictment would increase Trump's popularity as well as his likelihood to run, even if that's to avoid imprisonment,” says one. “If he's not indicted, I think it's less likely that Trump will be the nominee, decreasing Biden's chances.”

But if the indictment disqualifies Trump as a candidate, that is bad for Biden. In that case, “I think Biden's chances of being elected POTUS in 2024 go down to about 25% because he'd most likely have to run against Ron DeSantis,” says one.

And it would also be bad for DeSantis — or whoever the Republican candidate is — if their former president is facing jail. The general feeling was that a Trump indictment would be a high-variance outcome: it could affect the result enormously, but exactly how is not clear.

What if Ron DeSantis announces he will not run?

Ron DeSantis is the governor of Florida and one of the most likely candidates for the 2024 Republican nomination. The forecasters felt that he was very likely to run – and that the main signal that his not running would give would be about the potential candidacy of Donald Trump – and if Trump is running, that would be good news for Biden.

“Assuming that the main reason DeSantis would not run is Trump, Biden is likely to easily beat Trump, even with a couple of rough economic years,” one writes. “Any senility in Biden is likely to be present in Trump. Though Trump still enjoys support in the Republican Party, moderate Republicans and Independents are unlikely to vote for him. Trump on the ballot would guarantee a high turnout among centrists and Democrats who never want to see Trump at the helm again.”

If DeSantis does run, he has several advantages – he’s popular with the Republican base, able to point to a solid record in the Senate, and is “Trumpism without the baggage of Trump”.

One forecaster suggested that if Trump is running, Biden would be less likely to step aside or to face primary challenges: “The Democrats will be less likely to want to shake things up when their likely opponent, Trump, is viewed as an existential threat.”

Biden’s favourability with the Democrats

We also investigated what might change the Democrats’ views on keeping Biden as their nominee.

What if Pete Buttigieg announces he is running for the Democratic nomination?

Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and the current US secretary of state for transport, is seen as one of the more likely candidates if there is a Democratic primary challenge.

But the forecasters didn’t feel that Buttigieg’s running would be interesting in its own right – it only means that Biden is either not running or has reached a point where he’s lost the support of the party. “Pete is very unlikely to run if President Biden runs and is doing fairly well,” said one forecaster. “Pete is young enough and smart enough to know that appearing to undercut the presumptive nominee would hurt his long-term prospects, and time is on his side.”

“If Buttigieg announces he's running, then that means there is a contested primary,” said another. “That means that either Biden is stepping down, or he is going to be outcompeted. Even if Biden wins a contested primary, I think it's reasonable to expect him to be too wounded from it to win the general election (à la Jimmy Carter).”

Buttigieg running “would signal that the Democratic establishment has turned on Joe Biden”, says a third. “Buttigieg was a strong ally of Biden, coming from the same centrist mould, even during the primary itself. Buttigieg running is a proxy for other electable candidates running too.”

Another, though, felt the question might be superseded by events. “He will probably run if Biden dies or steps down, otherwise very unlikely in my opinion. If Biden dies or steps down we will already know he is not winning the 2024 election.”

What if the Democrats control both the House and the Senate following the midterms?

This seemed an incredibly unlikely outcome not so long ago, but the Democratic resurgence has put it back on the table once more. But it’s still not a sure thing. “I've gone for below 50% for this scenario, since there are things that could still get in the way, such as Biden's old age, scandals, or momentum behind another candidate,” writes one.

“I am giving the Democrats a 35% chance of keeping both the House and the Senate,” says another. “This reflects the upward momentum that the Democrats currently have. It also reflects that the Senate is currently slightly likely to go towards the Democrats but basically a tossup, while if they win the House it’s highly unlikely they’d lose the Senate.”

This would obviously be a good thing for Biden, since it would both indicate that the Democrats are electorally popular, and would allow him to move his legislative agenda forwards. “The Democrats controlling both houses of Congress would be correlated with many other helpful factors on the short-run, such as an increase in his favourability this year, policy approval, and improved economic conditions,” says one forecaster. “A lot can change between 2022 and 2024, and I'm not confident that the Democrats would make the most of two more years of full legislative control, but it would provide the context for the primaries and strongly diminish the chances of a serious Democratic contest.”

“Having both the House and Senate would help Biden immensely because it would help him accomplish more of his agenda,” says another, “thus making more Americans confident in his ability to lead the country.”

What if Biden’s net approval drops below -35 before July 2023?

Net approval rating is the percentage of people who think the president is doing a good job, minus the percentage who think he’s doing a bad job. Currently, he polls at an average of -16. If he were to fall to -35 it would put him in historically low levels – Donald Trump, even in the bleak last days of his presidency, never dropped below about -19. “If he does get that unpopular he will be one of the least popular presidents of the last 15-ish.”

That would pretty clearly be bad news for any president, but it’s unlikely because of the increased polarisation of US politics. “Net approval ratings seem much more constrained than they used to be,” says one forecaster, “so dipping that low would mean the Democrats really aren't happy.” Another agrees: “I think it's unlikely to see -35 with American political polarisation.”

If it does happen, it would mean he was much less likely to run, and if he ran, to win. “He still might be able to beat Trump,” writes one, “but it would be VERY hard to beat DeSantis”. “At this point he becomes a lot less likely to try again,” says another.

Of course, as previously noted, July 2023 is a long way from the election. “I don't think Biden's negative approval before July 2023 is an important indicator,” says one cautious forecaster.

What if Biden’s net approval rises above -5 before July 2023?

Much the same as above, only reversed. Becoming much more popular – or, technically, less unpopular – would be good news, but it’s not all that likely. “It would be very hard for Biden to get to this approval rating at this point,” says one, “but if he did, he'd have a very good shot of winning the 2024 election.”

But the cautious forecaster is still cautious: “I don't think Biden's negative approval before July 2023 is an important indicator (although if it goes up that much in a year that probably is somewhat a good sign).”

Biden’s health

What if Biden shows obvious signs of cognitive decline?

It is of course hard to assess objectively whether cognitive decline is occurring, so we settled on a condition that would be resolved by the group’s judgement. If it becomes clear that Biden’s mental acuity has deteriorated, what does that mean for his reelection chances?

The forecasters felt this was not likely. “I just watched some (uncharitable) coverage of Biden's gaffes over the past year,” said one, “and none of them are particularly bad. He is a bit slow when speaking, and gets concepts mixed up, but — as a 79 year old — he's as with it as many 60-year olds are.”

Another suggested that Biden’s mild speech impediment has given people the wrong impression: “The main reason people think his mental health is deteriorating is because he has a stuttering problem, which is something he has dealt with his whole life. He is still relatively sharp, and in my opinion, much more competent than George W. Bush and Trump were during their presidencies.”

That said, people at his age do sometimes experience sudden mental decline. If that were to be so, it would significantly increase the chances that he would be replaced, or if he were still to be on the ballot, to lose the election, depending on the opposition: “Even if he is in bad mental decline, he still may beat Trump”.

What if Biden is incapacitated for over a week due to illness before 2024?

A lot of situations in which this happens are bad for Biden. “If he's incapacitated for a week or more, a reasonable proportion of those situations will rule him out of the race,” said one forecaster. “I am assuming that falls or fractures won't incapacitate him, and it's more likely to be something like a stroke, pneumonia, or similar that would resolve this positively. It would be a salient affirmation of his opponents' case against him that he is too old and 'sleepy' to be a capable president.”

“Incapacitation for more than one week due to illness before 2024 is a pretty high bar,” wrote another, “considering the level of care that can be given at the White House and the reluctance to declare incapacitation. Even in the case of former President Trump’s time in Walter Reed Hospital he was shown to be doing some work during his stay for Covid and there was a desire to return him back to the White House quickly.”

There was some disagreement about what “incapacitated” meant. Some took it to mean the 25th Amendment was invoked, declaring the president unfit to work. That would, indeed, be a high bar. “The 25th Amendment was not invoked when Ronald Reagan was shot,” one forecaster points out. “When George W. Bush had a colonoscopy in 2002, Vice President Cheney was put in charge for only 20 minutes.”

Other factors

What if Hunter Biden is sentenced to prison before the 2024 election?

Hunter, Joe Biden’s second son, has faced several scandals, including drug problems and allegations of corruption, and a potential felony regarding a firearms purchase. Since December 2020 his tax affairs have been under federal criminal investigation. If he were to be convicted and sentenced to prison, several forecasters felt that this would be extremely bad for his father’s reelection chances.

“Imprisonment would make it clear to both Democrats and swing voters that this story was not just a result of a smear campaign,” wrote one. “The story has been pretty widely suppressed, but a conviction can’t be ignored and would presumably tank Joe Biden's electability; he certainly couldn't run on 'no malarkey' again.”

“I think this would decrease Joe Biden's chances of running again in order to prevent his son's situation from hurting the Democrats' chance of keeping the White House,” said another. “ And if Biden did still decide to run, I think it would be very unlikely that he'd win the election.”

It would also give Biden an excuse, should he want one, to drop out: “An indictment, prosecution, and conviction could give President Biden the justification to bow out of the race for personal family issues.”

But once again, while it would be bad for Biden if it did happen, it probably won’t happen. “This would be a huge blow to Biden,” says one, “but I consider it very unlikely. It's unclear if he committed any crime and even if he did, he is very much shielded by, well, his dad being President.”

What if monkeypox goes pandemic before the election?

Daily confirmed cases of monkeypox in the US — Our World In Data‌ ‌

We considered the chances of a much larger monkeypox outbreak and how that would affect Biden’s chances. Such an outbreak would infect a broader demographic profile than it currently does, so this condition resolves positively if more than 35% of the most recent 10,000 US cases are in women at any point before the election.

Two forecasters thought that a new pandemic would be a complete disaster for Biden. “It would damage a big reason he was elected in the first place – to be a responsible pair of hands for crises like pandemics,” said one. “Having a pandemic on your hands that was entirely preventable would be politically catastrophic, “ said another. “It would neutralise most criticisms of Trump over bad handling of Covid.” Others felt that it wouldn’t be quite so dramatic, but no one suggested that it would be good news for Joe Biden.

That said, it was also viewed as extremely unlikely since, at the moment, nearly 99% of cases are in men, spread largely through sex, and it would probably need to undergo some significant mutations for that to change.

What if gas prices go over $5.00 per gallon?

US Regular Conventional Gas Price — St. Louis Fed

The forecasters felt this could have some impact, “souring the mood of voters”, if it happened very shortly before the election. But if it just pops above at some point in the next two years, as it has fairly recently, most of the forecasters felt it wouldn’t be hugely significant in terms of the electoral impact.

What if the average year-on-year GDP real growth is above 2.5% over both 2023 and 2024?

Real Gross Domestic Product — St. Louis Fed

Good economic news is good news for an incumbent president, but the forecasters weren’t sure how good, or how likely this scenario is. “GDP growth is a bit abstract and doesn't always translate to individuals' feelings of relative prosperity,” said one. “It would still be good news for Biden, and not being in a recession during an election would be very helpful.”

“Unlikely to happen, but it would be excellent for Biden if it does,” said another. “Economy is probably the empirically most solid factor to influence US presidential elections.”

If this scenario does happen, “President Biden’s chances of getting reelected would be greater than 60% if we only looked at the economy and general job performance,” says one forecaster. “The reason I’m a little bit lower than this at 56% as I am still concerned about whether the primary voters believe that he is simply too old.”

What if the Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index is equal to or greater than 80 by July 2023?

University of Michigan: Consumer Sentiment — St. Louis Fed

To see if there was a better economic predictor than GDP growth, we considered the Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index. The MCSI is a measure of how confident voters are in the economy. A score of 80 would represent a significant improvement – at the time of writing, it’s around 58. Obviously enough, if consumers are feeling good about the economy, that’s good news for the incumbent president. “I think this would be a strong sign of voters' feelings about the economy, in a way that I think would tangibly affect voters' opinions towards Biden,” wrote one. “He'd be much more likely to be the Dem nominee, and pretty likely to win against a Republican challenger. A lot of things would have to go right, and some scandals or geopolitical embarrassments could still wreck that position, but it would vindicate him from a disappointing start.”

That said, it’s unlikely, and July 2023 is still early in the presidential term. “The economy will matter greatly, but summer 2023 is too far from the election,” wrote one. “I don't think it matters much what this indicator is more than a year before the election,” said another, bluntly.

Conclusions

A lot can happen between now and the presidential election, and forecasting that far ahead has a lot of associated uncertainty. However, our forecasters have a picture of the events that might alter their outlook on the next election. A significant source of uncertainty arises from the politics surrounding the two parties’ nominees; the important signals here include the announced candidacy (or withdrawals) of promising candidates such as Pete Buttigieg and Ron DeSantis.

As well as internal politics, there are economic indicators that could predictably change Biden’s chances of reelection. The bar is high for attaining confidence in one’s reelection prospects, but improving citizens’ feelings about the economy helps. All in all, Biden will need a fair amount of luck to be a two term president.

If there are topics you'd like the Swift Centre's panel of forecasters to tackle, please let us know: info@swiftcentre.org