Will Trump Get Re-Elected in 2020?
The 2020 election campaign is already beginning to heat up. Something like 25 Democratic candidates are currently challenging Trump and the former TV reality star has kicked off his re-election campaign. The economy continues to grow slowly and the country is (largely) at peace abroad. At the same time though, Trump is an historically unpopular president — his approval ratings remain stuck in the low 40s. What does modern history tell us about his chances for re-election?
I have identified the following four factors that have the most influence on this question.
- Is the country prosperous and at peace?
2. Is the incumbent president’s party running for a second term or a third term or even a fourth term?
3. Did the incumbent president face a significant primary challenge?
4. Is the opposition party split?
Let’s take a look at the those factors and evaluate the modern era.
1932. Hoover was running for the GOP’s fourth consecutive term in the White House and the country was mired in a deep depression. Roosevelt routed Hoover by a 57% to 40% margin in the popular vote and finished with 472 electoral votes to Hoover’s 59.
1936, 1940 and 1944. Roosevelt won all three of his re-elections by a comfortable margin. In all three election cycles, the economy was growing and Roosevelt didn’t face a primary challenge.
1948. Truman won a fifth consecutive term for the Democrats because the economy was doing well and there was still a natural Democratic majority in the electorate. Nor did Truman face a challenge in the primaries. It was an era of Democratic dominance due to the success of the New Deal and the U.S. victory in World War II.
1956. Eisenhower easily defeated Adlai Stevenson to win a second term. The country was prosperous and at peace. Eisenhower didn’t face a challenger in the primary cycle.
1964. Johnson won a massive landslide by a 486–52 margin in the electoral college due to peace and prosperity, the lack of a primary challenger and deep splits in the GOP.
1972. Nixon lacked a challenger in the primaries and the economy was good for most Americans. Even though the Vietnam War raged, very few Americans were involved in ground combat operations by 1972. Moreover, the Democrats were divided due to a bitter primary fight that pitted George McGovern versus Hubert Humphrey.
1976. Gerald Ford barely defeated Ronald Reagan for the GOP nomination. It was the last primary fight decided at the convention. Nonetheless, the economy was good and the country was at peace. Carter barely beat out Ford to win the election by a 297–241 margin in the electoral college. The GOP also had the disadvantage of attempting to win the White House for the third consecutive time.
1980. Jimmy Carter is the only incumbent president in the modern era in which the incumbent party failed to win a second consecutive term in the White House. It was a rare case of one term and out. Usually, the voters give a party a second term or second chance to enact its agenda. Carter faced a divisive primary challenge from Edward Kennedy and the country was experiencing both high inflation and a recession. On top of that, Carter was bedeviled by the Iran hostage crisis. Carter was perhaps the unluckiest president in the modern era.
1984. Reagan didn’t face a primary challenge and the country was at peace. Moreover, the economy was growing rapidly. Reagan carried 49 states and won the electoral college by a 525–13 margin.
1992. George H.W. Bush presided over an anemic economic recovery in which wages were stagnant. He also faced a primary challenge from Patrick Buchanan. The voters were tired of the GOP after three consecutive terms in the White House. Clinton won the election by a 370 to 168 margin in the electoral college.
1996. Clinton didn’t face a primary challenger and the country was prosperous and at peace. Clinton was easily re-elected by a 49% to 41% margin. Bob Dole never had a chance.
2004. Bush ran unopposed for the GOP nomination and the country was experiencing an anemic recovery. It was an unusual campaign since it was largely waged on the issue of national security. Despite the ongoing problems in Iraq, Bush was narrowly re-elected due to the post 9–11 rally around the president effect. The bottom didn’t fall out for Bush until 2005.
2012. Obama didn’t have a primary challenge and the economy was recovering from the Bush recession. Moreover, Obama withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011. Obama defeated Romney by a 51% to 47% margin in the popular vote and won the electoral college 332 to 206.
2020. The economy continues to grow at a slower pace than it did during Obama’s second term and middle class wages have only increased 1% when adjusted for inflation. It is similar to the economic performance that cost George H.W. Bush a second term. Moreover, there are several signs that the economy could go into a recession later this year or next year.
Trump has yet to experience a foreign policy disaster or get the U.S. involved in a major war. The former TV reality star has (thankfully) been cautious in the use of military force so far.
Trump’s current term in the White House is a first term for the GOP. The usual tendency of the voters is to give a party eight years in the White House before they turn them out.
It doesn’t appear that Trump will face a serious challenge in the GOP primaries. Former Massachusetts Governor William Weld has thrown his hat in the ring but Trump still enjoys strong support from the GOP base.
Despite a growing economy and the lack of a major war, Trump’s approval ratings remain mired in the low 40s. Trump can’t get to 270 votes in the electoral college with an approval rating of 43% unless the Democrats are divided and/or there is a serious third party challenge that divides up the anti-Trump vote.
A major factor that has made Trump an historically unpopular president is that he is simply inept and un-presidential. His bizarre and erratic behavior has turned off most voters outside of the GOP base. A more normal president would probably have an approval rating in the low 50s with this kind of economy.
Trump’s approval ratings also remain low because he has made no effort to reach outside of his base for support — there has been no outreach to swing or moderate voters. All of Trump’s policies have been aimed at pandering to his die hard supporters. There simply aren’t enough fanatical Trump supporters to get him above the low 40s.
At the present time, the Democratic nominee would win a narrow victory. However, that result isn’t guaranteed. If there is a major split in the Democratic party, Trump could eke out another narrow win in the electoral college. We can win this election if we stay united. All Democrats must support our presidential nominee in 2020. A second Trump term would be a disaster for the country and the planet. United we are strong! United we will win!