With less than 500 days until the 2024 election, reliable predictions are scarce at best, and it is likely that many of the factors that are most influential to the election have yet to even emerge. But to say DC is beginning to really focus on the election is an understatement, despite a political lifetime between now and Election Day. In these early stages, polling and predictions should not be a priority, as the key themes that are defining the 2024 election are the most valuable source of election analysis.
"Family Discussions" Are Needed ASAP: Party division is the key ingredient in many failing campaigns. Both sides of the aisle have competing forces internally that are seeking to implement messaging and political strategy. The Republican primary is also overloaded with candidates (with more expected to enter the race) and, while not a real political threat to President Biden, the Democratic primary is highlighting that there is some appetite among a small segment of voters for a new candidate. In the coming months, both parties will be having internal conversations in an effort to unify the party and create alignment around strategy and messaging. What comes out of these discussions will help all of us better understand which side carries more risk from intra-party distractions that could impact voter intensity down the road.
The Economy Remains the Top Issue: Most voter outreach continues to highlight that economic issues are the top consideration when voters are evaluating candidates. Of course, the economy today -- or a year ago -- is not the economy that voters will be staring at when they cast their ballot. That being said, both sides will increasingly define their positions through an economic lens with some flexibility to adapt to emerging economic conditions (good and bad) that arise closer to the election. Candidates will need to be nimble if significant adjustments happen to inflation, spending, or jobs (all big issues of focus today), since the economy will likely continue to be the top issue as the election approaches regardless of where today's issues stand in November of 2024.
Look to the House and Senate Floor Early Agenda: As the election nears, the House and Senate floor (and Oversight Committees) will become the early indicator around messaging and issue prioritization. Even this early, what policymakers are doing in Congress provides some insight into where the messaging around the election is headed. Significant oversight of President Biden and those around him will translate to talking points on the campaign trail for Republicans. Democrats will do the same around what they perceive to be unbalanced fiscal policy that is leaving Americans behind, which remains a core theme of their congressional messaging.
Even Bipartisan Issues Are Becoming Partisan: Some of the issues that have remained strongly bipartisan -- Ukraine assistance, concerns around China, and a focus on domestic manufacturing -- have slowly found areas of division, which we can expect to be more pronounced when the election nears. Bipartisan issues do not message well on the campaign trail, but candidates are still called on to address them...so they find ways to differentiate their position from their opponents. At a small scale, this is already happening with more to come.
While these themes will not be the only ones to define the election, they certainly are helping to identify key areas to monitor early on. But the unknowns -- what issues emerge between now and then, how external factors like the economy will change the dynamic of the election, if parties will be hamstrung by division, etc. -- will play the largest role, as they always do.