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Polls vs Primary Results: A New Metric for 2024 Hopefuls

Public trust in political polling is down, but there’s another way to make predictions.

by | May 27, 2024 | Articles, Good Reads, Politics

Former President Donald Trump has been performing much better than incumbent Joe Biden when it comes to the ever-coveted swing states, if the polls are to be believed. But more people than ever seem to distrust such surveys. Could there be a more reliable predictor? Perhaps. The presidential primaries are complete in the six swing states likely to decide the election come November. Can the results, combined with an examination of the 2016 and 2020 primaries and general elections, shed enough light to dispel the shadows of doubt left by the pollsters?

Another Day, Another Poll

Liberty Nation’s Leesa K. Donner highlighted a new NYT/Siena Poll that showed Biden in serious trouble. Trump had been polling a bit higher than Biden in most general head-to-head surveys for a while, but this poll specifically indicated the former president was likely to sweep through all but one of six critical swing states.

New banner Another Liberty Nation Original 1There are 77 electors up for grabs across these six states, and this survey indicates Trump getting all but ten of those. If we split them up accordingly and factor them in with the general consensus of the rest of the country – as demonstrated by the election map from 270towin – the Donald wins the 2024 election 302 to Biden’s 236.

But that’s only if you believe in the polls – and a lot of folks don’t these days. “Another day, another poll. Ho hum, some might say,” Donner wrote in her opening paragraph. So forget the polls for a bit, and let’s examine what is, perhaps, a more tangible metric: actual votes already cast.

Swing States Speak – Are We Listening?

Arizona

In the 2024 primaries, Donald Trump and the GOP in general outperformed Biden and the Democrats. The former president brought in 13.4% more primary voters than the incumbent, and the Republican Party had a 19.6% better turnout overall.

Have primaries predicted Arizona general elections before? Well, the Grand Canyon state didn’t hold a GOP primary in 2020, but we can look at 2016. Adding up Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s vote totals allows us to engineer a hypothetical head-to-head between the two, and the results show Trump beating Clinton 52.2% to 47.8%, a 4.4% margin. Sure enough, Trump won the general with 48.7% to Clinton’s 45.1% – a margin of 3.6%.

Of course, Biden won Arizona’s 11 electors in 2020. However, if the primary-to-general trend holds, the former president is set to trounce the incumbent, flipping the state – just as the NYT/Siena poll suggests.

Georgia

Trump and the Republicans beat Biden and the Democrats in Georgia, as well – and by a considerably larger margin. The GOP led in overall voter turnout in the 2024 primary with a margin of 34%, and Trump topped Biden by 28.6%.

Not only is this primary result even more favorable for Trump than Arizona’s, but so too is the trend set by the previous two presidential elections. Trump, the only Republican candidate in the state, beat out Biden in 2020 by a mere 25,175 votes. But the crowded field of Democrats drew almost 140,000 more voters than the GOP. The result was a Biden victory in the general with a razor-thin margin of 0.2%, or just shy of 12,000 votes. In the South, we say that’s finer than a frog’s hair split four ways.

Something similar happened in 2016, but with the roles reversed. Hillary Clinton, who had just three primary challengers in Georgia, brought in more votes than her Republican counterpart. But Trump was, in that primary, the candidate in a crowded field, and GOP voters outnumbered the Democrats by more than half a million. In the general, Trump defeated Clinton by a margin of over 200,000 votes.

For 2024, there is no flip-flopped lead between the parties and their chosen candidates. Trump pulled almost 30% more primary voters than Biden, and Republicans outperformed Democrats by more than 30%. Just as the poll indicates, this is bad news for Biden.

Nevada

While the math was simple for Arizona and Georgia, Nevada had to go and make it complicated. First, Republicans held both a caucus and a primary – with the primary being worth precisely zero delegates. Still, while frontrunner Trump chose to participate in the caucus and win the delegates, the closest runner-up in the polling at the time, Nikki Haley, chose to join the primary … for some reason. But if the primary was merely a beauty pageant, then the one crowned “Ms. Nevada” was none other than the second confounding principle in this contest: “None of These Candidates.” The electoral equivalent of “thanks, but no thanks” defeated Haley twice over, but what does that mean? Were these all Trump supporters who took to the primaries to troll Haley for laughs?

Presidential Candidate Nikki Haley Campaigns In Iowa Ahead Of The State's Caucus Next MonthNEVADA, IOWA - DECEMBER 18: Guests wait to greet Republican presidential candidate former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley as she wraps up a campaign stop at the Nevada Fairgrounds on December 18, 2023 in Nevada, Iowa. Iowa Republicans will be the first to select their party's nominee for the 2024 presidential race when they go to caucus on January 15, 2024. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Then there’s the fact that caucuses don’t tend to have as many participants as primaries. So, in this case, we’re left comparing apples to oranges even without the added confusion.

Still, if we combine the Republican voters, we see that the GOP turnout was greater than that of the Democrats. And while Biden took more votes than Trump, there are those pesky 47,000 or so who chose “None of These Candidates” over Nikki Haley; if they showed up for the primary, they’ll probably show up for the general, too. They’re voting for someone, and it seems unlikely to be Biden.

Trump lost in the 2016 and 2020 general elections by about 3% each time, despite the fact that he and the GOP did considerably better than Clinton and the Democrats in the 2016 caucuses. Democrats held a primary in 2020, and Republicans didn’t have a contest at all, so there’s no accounting for that year. Still, while the poll shows Nevada firmly in the Trump camp, this exercise is based entirely on actual votes cast, so we’ll call it a toss-up.

Michigan

Things look good for the former president in the Great Lake State, though perhaps not quite so rosy as in Arizona or Georgia. He took 9.8% more primary votes than Biden, and the Republican turnout was 9.4% better than that of the Democrats.

Biden won considerably more primary votes in 2020 than Trump, and his party outperformed the GOP. While he won the state, however, it was by a slim 2.8% margin, indicating that a sizable group of Trump voters in Michigan sat out the primaries but showed up for the general. In 2016, Hillary had more votes than Trump, and Republicans had only a slightly better turnout than Democrats. Trump won by just 0.2%. But it’s still good news for Trump, as the state seems to be leaning in his direction.

Wisconsin

The NYT/Siena poll shows Biden winning Wisconsin, and the primary numbers compared to the 2020 results support this – though 2016 throws all that into question. Biden won 3.6% more primary votes this year than Trump, but the GOP had a 2% higher turnout. In 2020, the roles were reversed, and Biden beat Trump in the general by less than 1%. In 2016, however, about 100,000 more Republicans than Democrats voted in the primary, and Clinton pulled considerably more votes than Trump. Still, Trump won – again, by less than 1%. By electoral math only, this state is a toss-up.

Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, the incumbent won 8.8% more primary voters than the former president, and the Democrats had a 6.2% better turnout than Republicans. The 2020 primary showed much the same, and Biden went on to beat Trump by 1.2% in the general, which indicates Biden is likely to keep the Keystone State. 2016 begs to differ, however. Hillary Clinton drew slightly more votes than her rival and the Democrats outnumbered the Republicans in the primary, yet Trump won the general by less than 1%. Right now, the primary numbers point to Biden despite the poll giving the state to Trump, but it’s far from certain.

The Donald Still Trumps Biden – Even If Just Barely

The 270towin consensus map shows Trump likely to be ahead of Biden just a bit, 235 to 226, with all but these six states assigned to one or the other. If we assign Arizona and Georgia to Trump, and Pennsylvania to Biden, leaving the other three as toss-ups, that brings Trump’s total to 262 and Biden’s to 245.

If the Donald can land Michigan or Wisconsin, he wins. If he takes Nevada, he’ll still need one of the others. For Biden to keep his job, however, he needs both Michigan and Wisconsin. No other combination of the three remaining swing states – except for all three, of course – gets him over the line.

If the primaries and caucuses foreshadow the general election results, neither candidate is looking at a landslide – or, for that matter, even a sure victory. But Biden certainly has a tougher road than Trump. Even if the recent polling trends in swing states hold up and Trump does much better in these six than the primaries and the last two elections suggest, it will be by close margins in each state. One thing remains, however, regardless of which prediction method you choose: While both men have a fight ahead of them, Biden looks more likely than Trump to be the one left on the mat when the final bell rings.

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