Editors’ note: In this archival piece, first published in July 2022, contributors Jonathan Schuldt and Peter Enns explained that their research suggested that, yes, Biden and Trump would most likely face off again this year.
Will President Biden seek reelection in 2024? Will Donald Trump try for a second, nonconsecutive term? Is Ron DeSantis, the outspoken Republican governor of Florida, planning to run for the White House? Although the next U.S. presidential election is more than two years away, pundits are already speculating.
First-term presidents are usually their party’s nominee in the next election. Aside from that, however, conventional wisdom suggests it’s too early to say who the 2024 contenders will be.
We’re not so sure. We believe that even this early, we can gain insight into who the nominees will be by asking Americans the right question.
We ask a different question than do most pollsters
Most surveys ask who Americans support for president by having them choose from a list of prominent politicians. We take a different approach. Instead, we ask respondents to name who they would like to see on the ticket. This more open-ended technique has proved remarkably accurate. More than 18 months before the 2020 Democratic primary contest was decided, we asked likely voters to name the one person they would most like to see run for president. For the Democratic ticket, the most frequently mentioned names were Biden (21.7 percent), Bernie Sanders (10.6 percent), Hillary Clinton (8 percent) and Elizabeth Warren (7.6 percent). Setting aside Clinton, who did not run, these results perfectly matched the top three delegate winners, in order.
So who are voters likely to favor in 2024?
To find out, we analyzed online survey data from Verasight, which asked 1,594 U.S. adults recruited through a mix of address-based probability sampling and online advertisements, “Thinking ahead to 2024, who do you think will be the next president of the United States?” To be sure, asking who respondents think will be president is different from asking who they want to be president, but this wording has the advantage of tapping into what social scientists call “voter expectations,” or who respondents think enjoys the most support. Respondents could name anyone who came to mind, giving a more direct picture than surveys that ask Americans to pick from a preselected list.
The survey was fielded between April 12 and 14 — more than 900 days before the 2024 election. Data were weighted to match the Current Population Survey on age, race/ethnicity, sex, income, education, region and metropolitan status, as well as to population benchmarks of partisanship and 2020 presidential vote. At this early stage, who do Americans think will win the presidency?
Four names stood out: Trump, Biden, DeSantis and Kamala D. Harris. Not surprisingly, the order of these names depended on partisanship. Among Republicans, Trump received the most mentions by a significant margin, named by 57 percent of Republicans surveyed. DeSantis took second place among this group, but with only 10 percent, followed by Biden with 6 percent. Among Democrats, Biden received the most mentions with 42 percent, followed by Harris and Trump, tied with 6 percent each.
The next most popular names among Republicans were Mike Pence, Nikki Haley and Ted Cruz; for Democrats, those were Hillary Clinton, Pete Buttigieg and Michelle Obama.
Why do we think these answers might be accurate?
The election is a long way out and many things can change. So what makes us think these results predict anything?
One reason is that they provide a clear measure of name recognition, which research suggests contributes to electoral success. They also reflect the strong role of partisanship, another key factor in presidential voting. Combined with ever-earlier starts to fundraising and campaigning, we believe data on candidate popularity more than two years in advance, if measured in this way, offer important insights both into the electorate’s mind-set and into electoral success.
This survey’s results are notable for a few reasons. DeSantis was the second most-named among Republicans back in April, before the House Select Committee’s closely watched hearings on Trump’s role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. That suggests that Republicans’ support for DeSantis may be more entrenched than previously thought. Further, Trump and Biden dominated their party members’ responses fairly overwhelmingly, being mentioned five to seven times as often as anyone else.
Yes, a lot can change over the next two years. But these data suggest that for all the talk about whether they are viable 2024 candidates, Trump and Biden are likely to enjoy strong support from their parties should they choose to run.
And if either of them does not, whether because of health, scandal, or something entirely unexpected, we have a pretty good idea of who will take their places at the top of the ticket.
Peter K. Enns (@pete_enns) is professor of government and professor of public policy at Cornell University, Robert S. Harrison director of the Cornell Center for Social Sciences and co-founder of Verasight.