Will Donald Trump's presidency last

Six reasons why Donald Trump will (not) be re-elected

It will be a year before the next US presidential election. Even if it is too early to make a prediction, the incumbent Trump has some good assets - but the Democrats also have reason to be optimistic.

"We will win again!" Announced the American President Donald Trump at the formal launch of his re-election campaign in June via his favorite mouthpiece, the short message service Twitter. Will Trump actually win? A reliable forecast is currently not possible. Just the ongoing impeachment investigation against the president will influence the mood in the coming months in a way that is difficult to predict. But this does not mean that there are no weighty indications that speak for or against re-election. Six aspects deserve special attention.

Incumbents have an advantage

Donald Trump has history on his side: Since the founding of the United States of America at the end of the 18th century, only 10 of the 44 previous presidents have been voted out. This ratio is not quite as blatant if one only takes into account those presidents who ran for re-election. But even then, there are still 10 votes out against twice as many (21) re-elected.

The incumbent seems to be starting off with an advantage. This is probably due to the fact that a president who is running for re-election is, firstly, much better known than his challenger and, secondly, can use his office to favor certain groups of voters and publicly praise his successes. However, if you have made yourself thoroughly unpopular, this hardly helps either. The last time an American president was elected was in 1992 - the incumbent George H. W. Bush, who is actually highly successful in foreign policy, was politically broken by an economic recession.

Ten US presidents have been voted out of office since 1800

Result as a percentage of the electoral votes required for re-election

But: Applying a simple historical rule to Trump is not enough. Trump's election in November 2016 was itself proof that the erratic Republican stands at odds with common historical experiences: He is the first president to have never held a political or military leadership position, and his style also stands out from all others its predecessors.

The economy is booming

The state of the economy is considered to be the most important factor influencing the re-election or de-election of an American president. Rightly or not: voters seem to hold the person in the Oval Office responsible for their situation on the job market and the economic situation in general. In the aforementioned election campaign of 1992, which led to the election of President Bush Sr., the camp of the Democratic challenger Bill Clinton coined a slogan that has entered the general vocabulary: "It's the economy, stupid!"

Judging by this indicator, Trump can look forward to the elections quite optimistically. The American economy is in an enviable state. The growth of the gross domestic product reached 2.9 percent last year, one of the highest values ​​since 2000. In contrast, unemployment is 3.6 percent, the lowest level in half a century.

The unemployment rate is at a record low

However, it is not clear to what extent voters will credit Trump for this situation alone. The decisive factor is likely to be the subjective assessment of how much has changed for the better under him. Two things have to be taken into account: Economic growth is currently only slightly higher than in the second term of the Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, and the decline in unemployment is just the continuation of a trend that has been going on for many years.

Certain economic indicators even suggest a remarkable skepticism on the part of Americans. After a temporary increase, the index of consumer sentiment collected by the University of Michigan is now lower than when Trump took office. Nevertheless, the overall robust economic situation appears to be one of the president's strongest trump cards. All presidents of the past hundred years who were denied the hoped-for second term - Bush senior, Carter, Ford, Hoover - had to grapple with serious economic problems beforehand.

But: Many economists anticipate an economic slowdown this year and next. The American central bank expects growth of only 2.0 percent for the 2020 election year. In addition, some political scientists have come to the conclusion that the influence of the economic situation on a president's popularity has decreased significantly compared to earlier times. You attribute this to the increased political polarization. The consequence of this is that more and more voters form their opinion without being guided by the course of the economy.

The typical factors for deselection are missing

Political scientists have long tried to embed the most important re-election factors in more sophisticated models because the focus on the economic situation alone is too narrow. The historian Allan Lichtman has presented a relatively simple construct. Lichtman is known for predicting Trump's election early on; With one exception, his model explains the outcome of all presidential elections since the last century.

Lichtman postulates that of thirteen central factors - he calls them keys - at least six must be present for one party to wrest the White House from the other. These keys include not only economic but also party-political constellations, including the question of whether an incumbent is confronted with a challenger from within the party. But the outbreak of international crises or an assessment of the candidates' charisma are also included in the calculation.

Currently, according to Lichtman, only four instead of six factors speak for a victory for the Democrats:

  • The good result in the 2018 congressional elections
  • The accumulation of scandals in the Trump administration
  • The lack of major foreign policy successes
  • Trump's lack of attraction for broad strata

If you trust this model, the Democrats would have to get at least two “keys” to victory, for example in the form of an economic recession, a third-party candidacy that costs Trump many votes, or an extraordinarily charismatic leader in the democratic camp. So far, no such prerequisites have been identified. However, no forecast model is immune to errors.

Trump does not have a majority behind him

Various factors speak in favor of Trump's re-election. At the same time, however, there is no lack of signals that should deeply alarm the Republican camp. In the foreground is the president's inability to address broad sections of the electorate beyond his base. This is reflected in consistently unfavorable survey results.

A president's approval rating is one of the most reliable indicators of his or her chances of re-election. Anyone who reaches a vote of 50 percent or more in polls in the summer before the election can expect re-election. However, if the value falls to 45 percent or less, a candidate is placed in a high-risk zone. This was the case with Presidents Bush Sr., Carter and Ford, who only enjoyed the support of 37 to 45 percent of those polled five months before the election in polls by the Gallup Institute. All three were later voted out.

Next summer, Trump's approval rating will also be a useful indicator of his re-election chances. At the moment it is still too early for that. However, there are good reasons to believe that the president's polls are unlikely to go up much. Trump's administration met with more rejection than support from day one. According to Gallup, the approval rating fluctuated between 35 and 46 percent and was 43 percent a year before the election. Trump thus differs from his predecessors, who all at least at times knew a majority of the population behind them.

Trump is less popular than almost all of his re-elected predecessors

Popularity of American presidents one year before re-election, in%

A year before the election, he is also behind almost all the presidents of the last 50 years who later managed to get re-elected. Only Barack Obama bobbed around in the polls in 2011 at a similar level. After that, however, he made significant gains and won the following year. Trump's ability to suddenly reach broader constituencies in a similar way may be questioned.

But: Trump does not need a majority of the voters for a re-election, the decisive factor is the number of electors (electors), who are won by majorities in the individual member states. Trump won 2016 with a 46 percent share of the vote, even though his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton received 48 percent more votes. To repeat this, the Republican would have to retake a number of states that have tended to move into the democratic camp since his election.

The partial elections of 2019 and the congressional elections are evidence of strong headwinds

In the November 2018 congressional elections, President Trump's party was able to slightly increase its majority in the Senate. In the House of Representatives, however, the Republicans suffered heavy losses and were back into the minority for the first time since 2010. A prognosis cannot be derived from this, because presidents regularly receive such memoranda in the middle of their first term of office. But the result made people sit up and take notice for a variety of reasons: First, the turnout reached its highest level in a century. Obviously, the polarization caused by Trump is helping to mobilize voters. A high voter turnout usually benefits the Democrats because their base tends to abstain from voting.

For example, voter turnout among the under 30s, the majority of whom favor the Democrats, increased at an above-average rate. Looking ahead to 2020, this mobilization is a very positive sign for Trump's opponents.

Young voters are much more involved

Participation in the mid-term elections by age group, in percent

Second, the pendulum has swung back in the direction of the Democrats in some major states. In 2016, Trump won the presidency because he was surprisingly able to take three Democratic strongholds in the rust belt of the northeast - Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. That these states could be permanently dominated by Republicans was not confirmed in 2018, on the contrary: the Democrats won various seats in that region.

The partial elections in November 2019 showed a similar trend as the congressional elections a year earlier: The Democrats achieved strong gains in suburban areas that were formerly Republican-dominated and with high proportions of voters with a higher level of education. This enabled the Democrats to regain control of the Virginia legislature after a quarter-century hiatus. They also took over the governorship in Kentucky, a conservative stronghold. Under the title “The anti-republican trend”, the “Wall Street Journal” warned the Trump party not to overlook the alarm signals: The president was very vulnerable. To win it is not enough to mobilize the Trump base. The party needs a strategy to regain stronger support in the suburbs. Otherwise she will lose the Senate and the White House in 2020.

In polls, Trump is behind

Polling institutes are already conducting regular polls in which Americans have to choose between Trump and possible democratic opponents. They are inevitably a mere snapshot.

Nevertheless, the president can hardly be at ease when pollsters present him with a deplorable picture from different regions. Polls this fall showed the president in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Wisconsin, for example, 4 to 6 percentage points behind his toughest challenger to date, former Vice President Joe Biden. These are member states that Trump won in 2016 and the loss of which would probably result in his being voted out. When polls ordered by the Trump campaign in the spring showed a similarly bad picture and the results leaked, the president reacted nervously: At first he flatly denied that such numbers existed, later several members of his survey team had to take their hats.

But: The informative value of such surveys is very limited. Quite apart from the fact that Trump's 2016 vote significantly exceeded the poll results in several states, the mood can fluctuate significantly over the course of a year. For one thing, it's not even clear who the Democrats are going to vote with. On the other hand, the race is likely to be influenced by many surprises until November 2020.