The Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary are over, and the results were clear: former President Donald Trump carried the state by a decisive margin. With the risk of a serious primary challenge likely blunted, it’s almost certain that the 2024 Presidential election will be a rematch between two wildly unpopular candidates. But while this election is likely to be a rematch, the results don’t seem like they’ll be quite the same as last time. As of the time of writing, incumbent President Joe Biden narrowly trails Trump in aggregated polling averages.
It’s abundantly clear that this election isn’t just a retread of 2020. Both presumptive candidates have low favorability ratings and glaring vulnerabilities. Our inaugural Presidential ratings for the 2024 election cycle reflect this uncertainty. While this cycle will have one of the smaller fields of competitive states in recent memory, we expect every one of them will see intense competition.
Six states begin at Tossup
Arizona and Georgia likely start as the most competitive Tossup states. Both states voted for Trump by small margins 2016. And in 2020, both flipped into the Democratic column for the first time in decades. We think Democrats have great long-term prospects in both states. However, for now, these are the two states we think most likely to flip back into the red column. And any winning coalition for Trump will likely require one, if not both, of these states. Polling has shown Trump to be especially strong in Georgia. Biden hasn’t led a credible poll here since May of last year, and Trump led by eight points in a recent Atlanta-Journal Constitution poll.
Another marquee Tossup state this cycle Wisconsin. The “tipping point” state in 2020, Wisconsin has quickly emerged as the most credible successor to Florida’s bellwether status. Two other Biden-won states, Nevada and Pennsylvania, also make this column. Nevada has proven to be fools’ gold for Republicans in the last few federal cycles. However, it has notably trended to the right in every presidential cycle from 2012 on. Pennsylvania, meanwhile, has also been surprisingly durable for Democrats downballot. Polling shows a tight race, with Biden leading the most recent Quinnipiac poll by three points.
A surprise entry to this list is Michigan. Of the states Trump flipped in 2016, the Wolverine State has proven to be the most tenuous. Since 2016, Michigan has revolted against Republicans. Democrats won all statewide offices in 2018, both federal races in 2020, and a state trifecta in 2022. Initially, we planned on starting this race in the Leans Democratic column. However, polling has been favorable for Trump here as of late; we’re starting it as a Tossup.
Republicans favored in Florida, North Carolina, Texas
On the Republican side, North Carolina and Texas begin as Leans Republican. Since Barack Obama’s 2008 victory in the state, North Carolina has become fool’s gold. Democrats haven’t won a federal race here since. Despite increasingly favorable legislative and congressional maps, Democrats have failed to make the inroads needed to break Republican dominance. While Democrats would love to turn the Tar Heel State blue, the reality is that North Carolina isn’t a frontline target. Like in Florida, it’s getting to the point where North Carolina Democrats don’t warrant the benefit of the doubt.
Texas represents a more intriguing target. Trump only carried the state by 5.6% in 2020, and the trends in the state’s extensive suburbs are hard to ignore. Like in North Carolina, it’s hard to argue in favor of Texas Democrats. They haven’t won a statewide race since the early 90s, and no statewide races were competitive last cycle. But if the suburbs take another hard shift to the left this time around, it’s not impossible to imagine a scenario where Biden carries it. That being said, we don’t think this is a probable scenario. Biden remains very unpopular in the state, and the national environment appears to be slightly to the right of 2020.
Perhaps no state has been more disappointing to Democrats in recent years than Florida. After two straight president victories in 2008 and 2012, Florida has nearly dropped off the swing state map. The state’s rural and retired populations have both swung heavily to the right. Hispanic voters, especially in south Florida, have swung Republican as well. There’s no greater example of this than Miami-Dade County. Once a county that Hillary Clinton carried by 30 points, Miami-Dade has since emerged as one of the nation’s most populous swing counties. While we don’t expect Trump to repeat the 20-point wins that characterized the 2022 midterms, we don’t think Democrats will strongly contest the state. We have it as Likely Republican.
Democrats favored in Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire
With a national environment right of 2020, we expect New England to have two mildly competitive states. Both New Hampshire and Maine start as Likely Democratic. After the 2016 election, where Trump lost New Hampshire by just 2,736 votes, Republicans were initially optimistic. In 2020, though, Trump lost the state by over 7.3%, the fourth-sharpest Democratic swing from 2016 to 2020. While don’t see it as being off the board, we don’t like Trump’s odds in a state he’s proven to be quite unpopular in.
Maine, meanwhile, was a surprise in 2016. Clinton only carried it by around three percentage points. However, Biden was able to carry it by around nine points in 2020. This was only slightly more than New Hampshire, so we think it’s probable this state could once again see some competition.
Minnesota also falls into the Likely Democratic column. Long a bridesmaid for Republicans, but never a bride, this state went from Clinton+1.5 in 2016 to Biden+7 in 2020. While Republicans still have ground to gain in rural areas, the staunchly Democratic and left-trending Twin Cities metro represents a sizable roadblock. Minnesota won’t be a top-tier target for the Trump campaign, and we expect its record streak of Democratic victories to continue.
ME-02 and NE-02 fade from the spotlight
We’re also starting Maine’s 2nd congressional district at Likely Republican and Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district as Likely Democratic. These two districts are allocated one electoral vote each; under redrawn lines, ME-02 would have voted for Trump by six percentage points while NE-02 would have voted for Biden by a similar margin.
Both seats have shown long-term trends for their respective party. We think both parties are more likely to focus more on the competitive House races in each district. In Congress, ME-02 is represented by Blue Dog Democrat Jared Golden and NE-02 is repressed by moderate Republican Don Bacon.
With only 12 states in the Tossup, Leans, or Likely columns, the 2024 cycle marks one of the smallest electoral fields in decades. This shouldn’t be a surprise; both parties are likely to nominate the same candidates as in 2020, after all.
We’ve omitted some states that other outlets regard as potentially competitive – states like Alaska, Iowa, and Ohio on the Republican side, and Colorado, New Mexico and Virginia on the Democratic one – because we don’t see a viable path to victory for the outsider party. In almost all of these states, the minority party failed to break through in either the blue wave of 2018 or the red ripple of 2022. This is a pretty bad omen, as we don’t expect the 2024 cycle to be a D+9 or R+3 year federally.
The two exceptions? Alaska, whose Democratic representative can owe much of her luck to ranked-choice voting, and Virginia, where Republicans reclaimed all statewide offices and the House of Delegates in the 2021 off-year election before losing control of the House in last year’s legislative elections. However, we don’t think either of these states – which voted for Trump and Biden by 10%, respectively – have a viable path for an upset at the presidential level just yet.