Trump Surges in Polls as Criminal Cases, Third-Party Candidates Cloud 2024 Contest
Trump Surges in Polls as Criminal Cases, Third-Party Candidates Cloud 2024 Contest

By Janice Hisle

Although former President Donald Trump’s poll performance reached new highs this month, unique uncertainties loom large over the 2024 presidential race.

President Trump, the Republican frontrunner, has pulled ahead of his presumed Democrat opponent, President Joe Biden, in most swing states, Emerson College and InteractivePolls recently reported.

In these “battleground states,” both major parties are in contention for a presidential win, experts say.

Pollster Rich Baris told The Epoch Times that President Trump is making a strong showing in those states at this stage of the game.

“We’ve just never seen Donald Trump polling as well as he’s polling right now,” said Mr. Baris, whose Big Data Poll boasts “access to 20 million U.S. voters through online panels.”

Even so, the RealClear Politics (RCP) average of opinion polls showed President Trump barely ahead of President Biden as of Oct. 24.

If current trends continue, President Trump’s lead should widen, Mr. Baris predicted.

But he noted that the potential Biden-Trump rematch differs dramatically from the men’s first showdown in 2020.

Predicaments for Both Presidents

For both candidates, the 2024 race is playing out on a political landscape littered with landmines.

America’s 45th and 46th presidents are embroiled in historic controversies while fending off challengers who can siphon away votes from each of them.

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Now seeking the GOP nomination for a third time, President Trump is the nation’s first former president indicted for alleged felonies.

The 77-year-old Florida resident asserts his innocence. He has forged ahead with his campaign as he fights civil and criminal court cases that threaten his fortune, his candidacy, and his freedom.

President Biden, already the oldest man to hold the nation’s highest elected office, turns 81 next month. He faces a trifecta of troubles: age-related concerns, a congressional impeachment inquiry over his family’s foreign business dealings, and a federal probe of his possession of classified documents.

To boot, both candidates face opposition from America’s first notable alternative presidential candidate in a quarter-century, environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks at an event in Los Angeles, Calif., on Sept. 15, 2023. (NTD)

Mr. Kennedy, a former Democrat running as an independent, will surely tap votes from both major party nominees, just as third-party candidate Ross Perot did in the 1990s. A second independent candidate, former Harvard University professor Cornel West, trails Mr. Kennedy.

Because of these atypical factors, “I think we’re going to see large numbers of people say they’re open to a third-party run or an independent run,” Mr. Baris said.

It’s doubtful that this appeal will persist, he said. Support for third-party candidates typically drops as the election nears, coalescing around the two major party candidates.

So far, President Trump appears to be convincing more people that he would “do a better job” than President Biden, Mr. Baris said.

How to Choose?

Based on his research and that of other pollsters, Mr. Baris says he thinks most voters are framing their choice between the major parties’ top candidates this way: “The guy who is under 91 counts of indictment, who did a good job as president, should I vote for him? Or should I vote for the guy who indicted him, who’s not doing a good job?”

If voters parse the presidential race in the manner that Mr. Baris described, President Trump will gain ground, he said, “because it looks [to the voter] like a losing opponent who’s struggling to do the job is trying to keep down his competition, or his political opposition.”

President Biden denies playing a direct role in the indictments of his political adversary. But people who work at President Biden’s behest did call the shots in President Trump’s two federal cases.

Some suspect that federal officials may also have influenced the pair of state cases lodged against the former president in New York and Georgia.From within his own party, President Biden faces no formidable opposition right now. However, political observers suspect that his political liabilities might tempt Democrats to replace him on the ballot.

A politician’s age doesn’t seem to be an issue until that person is “showing his age,” Mr. Baris said.

Throughout his tenure, President Biden has stumbled over his words and sometimes over his feet. The gaffes have happened often enough that many people have concluded that, “Very clearly, he’s in a cognitive decline,” Mr. Baris said.

The White House pushed back against such characterizations earlier this year. In a five-page health summary, the president’s physician, Dr. Kevin O’Connor, declared him “fit for duty.”

Nevertheless, “large numbers of voters are concerned about this, even big numbers of Democrats,” Mr. Baris said.

President Joe Biden is helped up after falling during the graduation ceremony at the United States Air Force Academy, just north of Colorado Springs, Colorado, on June 1, 2023. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

But that issue apparently hasn’t helped President Biden’s main declared Democrat challenger, Marianne Williamson. She has gained little traction. Ms. Williamson is running 61 percentage points behind President Biden in the RCP average.

As for President Trump, despite facing more than a half-dozen other GOP presidential hopefuls, he is now drawing about 51 percent of Republicans’ votes for his party’s nomination, Emerson College reported.Trump spokeswoman Liz Harrington told The Epoch Times: “President Trump is leading the GOP primary by 50 points and is the only candidate who can win in 2024. Americans cannot wait for his America First leadership to return to the White House.”

The former president’s campaign called attention to his favorable polling in an Oct. 13 roundup, noting that the Morning Consult poll estimated that he would grab a 61 percent share of votes in Republican primary elections next year.

“President Trump has reached all-time highs over the entire Republican field and is leading Biden in several key battleground states,” his campaign’s news release said.

His nearest GOP rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, drew 12 percent of Republican voters in that Morning Consult poll. That figure is in line with his standing in the RCP average.

Fans of Mr. DeSantis see him as better situated to defeat President Biden in a head-to-head contest. They worry that President Trump’s legal troubles and outspokenness could work against him in next year’s election.

But right now, the RCP average shows Mr. DeSantis losing to President Biden by 1 percent if the two politicians were to face off against each other. That’s a worse showing than President Trump is registering in current polling.

Mr. Baris, who calls himself “The People’s Pundit,” sees signals that President Trump’s appeal to voters is strengthening.

On Oct. 11, Mr. Baris pointed out several barometers on X, formerly Twitter: “Trump is leading on the RCP average nationally, in Michigan and Pennsylvania. That just never happened in 2015/2016 or 2019/2020.”

Trends to Watch

With more than a year to go before Election Day, Nov. 5, 2024, Mr. Baris says it’s important to look beyond the polling numbers and consider “what’s driving the trends.”

One of the biggest is voters’ impression that, overall, President Trump “did a better job” in office than President Biden is doing, Mr. Baris said, adding that the Democrat is polling poorly for an incumbent.

The economy is probably the No. 1 issue for U.S. voters, he said.

Even though the Biden administration has emphasized favorable job-growth reports, “Americans aren’t buying it,” Mr. Baris said.

The number of new jobs matters. But so does “the quality of jobs that are being created,” he said, adding that voters think Trump created better-paying jobs.

He has “a very big lead” over President Biden on that section of the presidential report card, Mr. Baris said.

Under President Biden, people don’t see “real wage growth;” they’re struggling and “not feeling very optimistic about the future,” he said.

Also, because of the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist invasion of Israel, foreign policy is top-of-mind for many people.

Wars Stoke US Concerns

Citizens remember the world as a more peaceful place under President Trump’s foreign policies, Mr. Baris said.

Under President Biden, “Americans have the general sense that the world is in chaos,” he said.

Russia invaded Ukraine more than a year ago, and the United States has continued pumping money into that war with no end in sight. Now President Biden is urging Congress to authorize more than $100 billion for “national security” needs, including aid to Ukraine and Israel.

Americans are dissatisfied with President Biden’s performance overseas, Mr. Baris said. “When we ask them about foreign policy, Trump just thrashes him.”

That’s an “astonishing” result, he said, considering that President Biden formerly served as a U.S. vice president and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

President Trump touts a “peace-through-strength” approach and boasts a foreign-policy track record that appeals to Americans more than anything his opponents have to offer in that realm, Mr. Baris said.

Although President Trump held no elected position before he won the presidency in 2016, voters trusted him with foreign policy because he had experience as an international businessman.

In contrast, Mr. Kennedy and other presidential hopefuls who lack similar experience will have difficulty persuading voters to entrust them with the U.S. presidency, Mr. Baris said, because that position is “so crucial and so important to world stability.”

Mourners grieve for two women killed by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7 at Kibbutz Kfar Aza. The casketless ceremony was in Shefayim, Israel, on Oct. 24, 2023. (Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

Assuming a Biden-Trump matchup next year, one of the candidates is likely to suffer more than the other from a third-party candidate draining votes from him. But which one?

So far, polls are conflicting. While one survey suggests that President Trump’s less-loyal voters would cast ballots for an independent, at least two other polls indicate that more of President Biden’s supporters would migrate to alternative candidates.

InteractivePolls, based on findings from Redfield & Wilton Strategies, reported on Oct. 15: “When Kennedy Jr. is included as an ‘indy’ candidate, Trump leads Joe Biden in five of six swing states polled.”

In that hypothetical three-way race, President Trump led by five points or fewer in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and North Carolina. President Trump was leading in Mr. DeSantis’ territory, Florida, by a comfortable 8 percent margin; the contest would be a tie in President Biden’s home state of Pennsylvania.

Also on Oct. 15, Politics Polls reported that, in a three-way race, President Trump would attract 50 percent of the vote, with 32 percent going to President Biden.

This projected outcome suggests that third-party candidates would divert voters mostly from President Biden’s camp.

But The Marist Poll’s research suggests that President Biden would beat President Trump by 7 percentage points in a three-way race, with Mr. Kennedy gobbling up 16 percent of the votes.

“Although it’s always tricky to assess the impact of a third-party candidate, right now Kennedy alters the equation in Biden’s favor,” Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, stated on the college’s website.

Independents Face Challenges

Mr. Baris says it’s tough to reconcile these widely varying projections right now. But the third-party effect may not matter in the end, he said.

That’s because Mr. Kennedy and other third-party candidates face high hurdles before they can qualify to be listed on state ballots.

“In Georgia, a state where libertarians and Green Party candidates have suffered greatly, they have not been able to secure ballot access,” Mr. Baris said. “You would need 90,000 valid signatures in the Peach State alone.”

Another obstacle: Many potential voters are still unfamiliar with these alternative candidates and their platforms. It’s hard for them to get voters to pay attention to their messages.

Mr. Kennedy, for example, is best known for expressing vaccine safety concerns. As an attorney, he has represented “marginalized communities in their battle against corporate and government polluters.”

Some people who had considered him a possible alternative to either President Biden or President Trump say that, after they further investigate, they feel uncertain or outright opposed to him.

One of those voters is Kay Taylor, 47, of Spartanburg County, South Carolina. She told The Epoch Times that she had voted for President Trump but found Mr. Kennedy intriguing. So she went to see him speak in person.

She said she loves “all that RFK has fought for and spoken up about,” and was planning to vote for him.

But after she learned more about Mr. Kennedy, she started feeling less sure about whether to cast her ballot for him.

She doesn’t like the fact that he endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign against then-candidate Donald Trump.

Ms. Taylor also is concerned about Mr. Kennedy’s stance on abortion. She disagrees with the notion that abortion is a type of “medical freedom.”

Rather, she said, abortion “robs vulnerable citizens of their most basic freedom—the right to live.”

But other attendees of Mr. Kennedy’s campaign-trial stops told The Epoch Times that they intended to vote for him instead of President Trump.

Cash Infusion

Meanwhile, Mr. Kennedy has enjoyed a burst of enthusiasm in recent weeks; he has stated that he thinks he can win the presidency—a feat no other independent has achieved, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

Within hours of Mr. Kennedy’s Oct. 9 announcement that he would eschew the Democratic Party and seek the presidency as an independent, a Super PAC (Political Action Committee) raised more than $11 million for his candidacy, The Epoch Times previously reported.

The cash infusion came after he raised $8.7 million in the third quarter of this year. That exceeded the fundraising of all other notable presidential hopefuls except the top three: Mr. DeSantis, President Biden, and President Trump.

As the presidential campaign progresses, the number and composition of “battleground” states will vary as pollsters re-evaluate the political scene.

Nine ‘Competitive’ States

In Mr. Baris’ opinion, nine states now appear to be “competitive,” or up for grabs.

He considers just two of them, Minnesota and New Hampshire, to be leaning toward President Biden. Two others, Maine and Nevada, are “toss-ups.” The remaining five, he says, are leaning toward Trump: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Each state carries a certain number of Electoral College votes, based on the size of its congressional delegation.

The candidate who wins the most citizens’ votes in a state also is expected—but not required—to be allotted that state’s votes through the Electoral College process, which decides the presidency.

A candidate must win a majority of the college’s 538 electoral votes. If no candidate collects 270 electors’ votes, the vote goes to the House of Representatives.

According to 270towin.com, President Biden appears to hold an initial Electoral College advantage over President Trump.

That site is estimating that states carrying 241 electoral votes would go to the Democrat candidate, while 235 votes appear destined for the Republican and 62 votes are considered up for grabs.

Jeff Louderback contributed to this story.

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