Q&A of the Day - Electoral College Outcomes Based on Presidential Approval
Each day I feature a listener question sent by one of these methods.
iHeartRadio: Use the Talkback feature – the microphone button on our station’s page in the iHeart app.
Today’s Entry: Hey Brian love the show! You caught my attention with the correlation between presidential approval rating performance and election outcomes. My question/what I’d like for you to do is to break out what the Electoral College outlook currently is based on Biden’s approval rating in individual states right now. My concern is that we could have a situation to where Biden is extremely unpopular in red states but that he is accepted enough in blue and swing states that he could still win.
Bottom Line: Ahh yes, bifurcation is real – there's no doubt. In many ways those on the left and the right are as divided on political issues and the way they view the world as they’ve been in any of our lifetimes. Also, your point regarding presidential elections being won and lost in the Electoral College as opposed to national surveys is spot on as well. What this is in reference to is my first presidential reelection odds story of the 2024 presidential cycle. Last week I brought you this: President Biden’s reelection odds stand at 48% based on a 42% approval rating. Biden is underperforming the historical norms for an incumbent at this point in his presidency. This means a generic ballot Republican contender is currently favored to win the election as of today. That was based on President Biden retaining only a 42% national approval rating as of mid-September in the year prior to a presidential election (his average approval rating is now lower than that in real-time as his fortunes continue to fall nationally).
For the ease of conversation today, a way to infer where we stand from a presidential approval rating perspective is like this. An approval rating for President Biden of 44% or higher has him as the favorite to win that state. 43% would be tossup territory and 42% or lower, as already noted is the threshold where a generic challenger would be the favorite as of today. This will be an interesting exercise to see where we stand generally speaking as we’re a little over 13 months away from Election Day.
In order to get dynamic state by state approval rating breakouts, I’m turning to the online pollster Civiqs which has the data available and updated daily. As of today, here’s the breakout by state:
States where President Biden’s approval is 44% or higher:
- 12 states representing 167 Electoral College votes (plus the District of Columbia)
States where President Biden’s approval is 43%:
- 2 states representing 17 Electoral College votes
States where President Biden’s approval is 42% or lower:
- 36 states representing 354 Electoral College votes
This exercise paints how somewhat dire President Biden’s reelection bid is based on historical norms. A generic ballot Republican would be favored to win the election with 354 Electoral College votes as of today, or 84 more than is necessary to win the election. For perspective, that would be the largest margin of victory by either party since Barack Obama beat John McCain by a 365 to 173 margin in 2008. So, if you’re looking for historical context as to what the general landscape of the Presidential race is at this point in the cycle...the answer is that it’s almost as favorable for Republicans as the 2008 election cycle was for Democrats – or most specifically... A generic ballot Republican is nearly as strong as Barack Obama, and Joe Biden is nearly as weak as John McCain, in a presidential election context as of today. As we know, so much is going to change over the next many months let alone the next year, so this exercise isn’t more than a temperature check at this moment in time. However, for those on the left who are already starting to panic, and for those on the right who are starting to feel optimistic, there’s perhaps some justification to those feelings. Conceptionally, when you take a step back at where this country currently sits, what the mood of the country currently is, and consider President Biden’s overall (lack of) effectiveness thus far in addition to how his mental and physical state is likely to progress from here... It’s worth noting many presidents have struggled in the polls late in their third year in office and have recovered leading up to the presidential election. That said, in the modern political era, there’s not one who was as old as President Biden or so apparently in decline as President Biden. That leads to the current dynamic feeling a bit different than say when Obama was struggling at a similar point.