It’s August, which means it’s eerily quiet in Washington. The U.S. Senate and House are in recess until September 5 and September 12, respectively, and the first Republican 2024 presidential candidates’ debate, which will take place at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wis., is somehow just three weeks away.
Ready or not: Election 2024 is upon us.
Let’s take a look at where things stand in the race for the White House and control of Congress next November.
State of the Race: The White House
There currently are 13 Republicans running for their party’s presidential nomination while just three Democrats are vying for that party’s nod.
Let’s tackle the less voluminous Democratic field first. Incumbent President Joe Biden is running for a second term, of course, as are two lesser-known candidates: activist and nephew-of-a-former-president Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and writer Marianne Williamson. The Democratic National Committee has put its weight fully behind President Biden and will not even hold debates among the three candidates.
So far, voters are not taking President Biden’s challengers too seriously either. We could not, for example, find a single poll from this summer where either Williamson or Kennedy were within 40 points of President Biden in the Democratic primary race. As of today, President Biden’s grasp on the Democratic nomination in 2024 appears quite strong.
While there will not be a Biden-Kennedy-Williamson debate, as noted above, the Republican National Committee will bring together its top presidential candidates for a debate on August 23. To be invited to that forum, candidates had to meet certain polling and fundraising numbers, however. Specifically, a candidate needed to have at least one percent support in each of three high-quality national polls or a mix of national and early-state polls fielded between July 1 and August 21 and a minimum of 40,000 donors, with at least 200 in 20 or more states.
Only seven candidates have met those metrics: former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.
Notably absent from that list? Former Vice President Mike Pence.
According to RealClearPolitics’ compilation of polls, former President Trump has a commanding lead over all of his opponents. Gov. DeSantis is running a distant second (by more than 20 points) and entrepreneur Ramaswamy is third in most surveys.
In early general election polls that pit the two frontrunners, President Biden and former President Trump, against each other, surveys have the men in a dead heat — literally. A Marquette University survey and a separate one from New York Times, both posted in the last week, had the two Oval Office veterans exactly tied.
At this point, at least, it is impossible to tell which party will hold the White House come January 2025. But it does appear that we’re on track to have a Biden-Trump rematch next November.
State of the Race: U.S. Senate
It is also impossible to tell right now which party will control the Senate after the 2024 election.
As the election website 270ToWin noted, currently 51 members of the Senate are Democrats or Independents who caucus with the Democrats. There are 49 Republicans senators. Only one-third of the chamber is up for reelection in any given election year and this year there are 34 seats up for grabs, and the 2024 map is highly favorable for the GOP. Democrats or Independents who caucus with Democrats hold the vast majority of those seats — 23— while Republicans hold just 11.
Republicans can retake control of the Senate with a net gain of just two seats without winning the White House. If Republicans take back the presidency, they only need one seat to control the Senate since the vice president casts the tie-breaking vote if the chamber is split 50-50.
In other words: Republicans need to convert just 10 percent of the seats Democrats are defending this year.
According to the Cook Political Report, at least eight Democratic seats are vulnerable: Arizona, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. In contrast, each of the 11 Republican seats is fairly safe, Cook had estimated.
While those numbers undoubtedly are a positive sign for Republicans, Democrats do have the power of incumbency on their side. Seven of the eight vulnerable Democratic seats will have incumbents running in them. Since history shows it very difficult to unseat an incumbent, that fact could help Democrats retain their majority. And based on the 2024 Senate map, Democrats will need all the help they can find.
State of the Race: U.S. House
The race for the House will be as tight as the those for the White House and Senate.
Every single member of the House is up for reelection in 2024. Republicans currently hold 222 House seats and Democrats hold 212. There is one vacancy. If Democrats net six seats in November 2024, they will have the 218 they need to claim the majority.
Both parties have plenty of seats that are vulnerable, however. Cook Political Report lists 24 seats held by Democrats as vulnerable and 19 for the Republicans. The landscape is about even.
The landscape also is very level when you ask voters, in general, which party they would prefer to vote for when it comes to control of the House. This outcome for this question, called the “generic ballot question,” showed just a 0.5 percentage point advantage for Democrats in the RealClearPolitics average of polls.
Another key indicator, in addition to the generic ballot question, that could act a bellwether for which party is ahead in the race for the House are lawmaker retirements. If members of one party begin to feel like 2024 will just not be their party’s year, the number of lawmakers choosing not to run for reelection could start to balloon rather quickly. As of today, 10 House Democrats have said they are not running for reelection. Only three House Republicans have made the same decision.
Another area to watch carefully ahead of the battle for the House in 2024 will be court-mandated redistricting in two key states: Alabama and New York. Courts in both states recently ruled that the state-drawn congressional districts will have to be revisited ahead of the 2024 election in a manner that would almost definitively see the Democrats pick up one seat in Alabama and as many as five seats in New York.
State of the Race: Governors and State Legislatures
While there will be plenty of drama and intrigue in the race for the White House and control of both chambers of Congress, Election 2024 will be somewhat more subdued at the state level—at least when it comes to governors’ races.
One reason for that is there are just 11 gubernatorial races next fall. Voters in Delaware, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia are the only ones who will be choosing new governors. Republicans are defending more ground: eight governors up for reelection in 2024 are Republicans while just three are Democrats.
Currently, 26 governors are Republicans and 24 are Democrats. Could Democrats shift the balance of power in 2024?
Even though the numbers are in Democrats’ favor, it will be difficult.
Again, power of incumbency is strong. According to Ballotpedia, in the last presidential election year (a year when turnout will be comparable to 2024), incumbents won nine of the eleven races. In the other two races, there was not an incumbent on the ballot.
In 2024, there will again only be two governors’ races that do not feature an incumbent. That is probably why political prognosticators like the Cook Political Report and the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato have rated these incumbent-held seats “safe,” or unlikely to change hands. The other two races, in New Hampshire, where Republican Gov. Chris Sununu is stepping down, and in North Carolina where Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is not running for reelection, are listed as toss-ups.
In other words: when it comes to governors, it is very likely the partisan balance of power will look a lot like it does now, even after the 2024 election.
Further down the ballot, for state legislative seats, there will be far more races, but here again voters probably should not expect much change in the balance of power.
There are 99 state legislative chambers in all of the 50 states. (Nebraska is the only state that does not split its legislature into two, a house and a senate.) According to Ballotpedia, in 2024, 86 chambers will be up for grabs across 44 states.
Currently, Republicans control about 55 percent of all state legislative seats nationally while Democrats hold most of the rest. (Third party lawmakers are scattered here and there.) The GOP holds a majority in 57 chambers, Democrats hold the majority in 40 chambers, and two chambers (the Alaska House and the Alaska Senate) are organized under multipartisan, power-sharing coalitions.
Many of these state legislative races are still taking shape, but if history is any guide, there is not likely to be much turnover. Looking again at presidential election years (so we can control for similar turnout), we find:
There were only two changes in control of state legislative chambers in 2020;
There were seven changes in control of state legislative chambers in 2016; and
In 2012, there were 11 changes in control of state legislative chambers.
The key takeaway? State legislative elections will probably come down to which party’s voters are feeling more energized.
That brings up to another poll to watch: voter enthusiasm. This question, which pollsters tend to focus on in the actual election year, asks how excited each voter is to cast their ballot. If Republicans are in the lead, it could indicate better turnout for that party. The same is true if Democrats are more excited.
Right now, as PBS has noted, neither party’s voters are particularly amped about their 2024 prospects. Surveys show a majority of Democrats are not excited about a second Biden term and a majority of Republicans feel the same about a second Trump term. Both would rather have someone else at the top of their ticket.
While we can’t tell you who will win in 2024, we can say that both parties are going to seek to gin up voter enthusiasm between now and next November.