Why neither Biden nor Trump will be the next president  

We are now less than one year away from Election Day 2024.  

On the Republican side, three debates have already been held featuring a diverse group of presidential hopefuls. The one person who has been absent has been the favorite in the polls, Donald Trump, declining to participate. Not surprisingly, the number of candidates has continued to dwindle, from eight in the first debate, to seven in the second debate, and to five in the third debate. The number set for the fourth debate on Dec. 6 currently stands at three, with Chris Christie’s campaign on life support hoping to make the stage.   

On the Democrat side, incumbent President Joe Biden is assumed to be running for a second term. Pollsters are focusing on a Biden-Trump rematch, with early polls giving Trump a slight edge in several key battleground states.  

In spite of such political drama, the data suggests that neither Trump nor Biden will be elected president on Nov. 8, 2024. Here’s why.  

The Thirteen Keys to the White House have provided a reliable track record in forecasting who will win the presidential election. One of the keys (No.3) gives an edge to the incumbent president. This motivates the Democrats to keep Biden in the race as their candidate.  

The problem is that Biden is nearing 81 years of age, putting his candidacy based on age in uncharted territory. All voters, including the majority of Democrats, are concerned with this situation. Biden’s age prompted Congressman Dean Phillips of Minnesota to announce his own campaign for the nomination. Others are quietly waiting in the wings if Biden falters or steps aside, including Cory Booker of New Jersey and JB Pritzker of Illinois. If Phillips turns out to be viable, this will turn yet another key against Biden (No.2).  

To further complicate the situation, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has launched his own independent campaign, as has Cornell West. This further muddies the waters for Biden, as he will need to stave off defections of voters to these two candidates, who will likely appeal to some Democratic voters.  

Once again, the Thirteen Keys to the White House penalizes incumbents when a viable third-party candidate is in the race (No.4). Recent polls suggest that Kennedy will fuel additional headwinds to Biden gaining a second term, though some Republican voters may also be attracted by Kennedy’s anti-vaccine position.  

Of course, many Democrats are hoping that Biden can make it to the finish line and get reelected. Once in office, any health issues can be managed with the vice president sitting in for him. Clearly, their objective is winning the election, not Biden serving out a full four-year term. 

The biggest problem faced by Biden and the Democrats is that nature is unpredictable, as health issues emerge with each passing month once one reaches a certain age.   

Whether Biden can sustain his viability and make it to Election Day is anyone’s guess. And even if he does, many voters will view a vote for him as a vote for Kamala Harris, Biden’s presumed running mate. Voters understand this, which some independent voters and those on the fence may find less than ideal. How this will play out remains unclear.  

All these factors increase the likelihood that Biden will not be inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2025

If Democrats weigh the risks and benefits of Biden running for a second term, they will realize that the sooner they pull the plug on his candidacy, the more time they will have to prepare the campaign for his replacement and the better the chance they have of retaining the White House. 

Every option carries with it some risks that cannot be completely mitigated. However, risks can be managed, and putting forward a viable option appears to be the most plausible pathway forward for success.  

The situation on the Republican side for Trump is not much better.  

The field of Republican hopefuls continues to shrink, as Tim Scott recently ended his campaign bid. This leaves Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Chris Christie and Vivek Ramaswamy among those who participated in the third Republican debate.  

The front-runner who did not participate, Donald Trump, has no reason to engage with these hopefuls. He is well ahead in the polls. He also has numerous legal issues that ironically are providing ample media coverage, albeit tainted, which keeps him in the public eye.  

A large pool of Republican hopefuls plays well into Trump gaining the party nomination. However, as this group continues to shrink, he can be more easily contrasted with the one or two left standing, making it straightforward for voters to see what they are getting with him — and the risks of him gaining the nomination.  

Though Trump’s base continues to be stable, it remains unclear if they alone can push him across the finish line. With non-Trump voters splitting their support among fewer Republican hopefuls left in the race, Trump’s vulnerability will be exposed. Since the first caucus and primary are still two months away, this provides ample time for the smoke to clear, placing Trump in direct opposition to ideally one candidate, though more likely two. Recall that in 2016, the crowded field played to his advantage; a shrinking field could create sufficient headwinds that will prove to be his kryptonite.  

Let’s not forget that Trump is 77 years of age. If elected, he would be older on Inauguration Day in 2025 than what Biden was on Inauguration Day in 2021. Will this also work into how voters view his candidacy?  

All these factors suggest that the next year will be fraught with surprises that could upend what is expected. Who will win the White House in 2024 remains unknown. The data suggests that the likelihood of a Biden-Trump rematch is highly unlikely, and that either of them winning the White House is small.  

Sheldon H. Jacobson, Ph.D., is a professor of Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He applies his expertise in data-driven risk-based decision-making to evaluate and inform public policy. He has studied election forecasting dating back for over two decades. 

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