Trump, GOP are early favorites for White House, Congress

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Former President Trump and the GOP are the favorites to win the races for the White House and for both chambers of Congress a little more than five months before Election Day, according to a forecast model released Wednesday by Decision Desk HQ and The Hill.

The model gives Trump a 58 percent chance of winning the presidency, and shows him with slight leads in most of the key swing states in the presidential race.

Republicans are a more comfortable favorite in the House and Senate, the model says. The GOP holds a 79 percent chance of winning the Senate majority and a 64 percent chance of holding its House majority.

The model is based on the framework that Decision Desk HQ used for past elections in 2020 and 2022 but with some changes. 

Decision Desk HQ points to about 200 different data points that are factored in to reaching the probabilities, including voter registration numbers for each party, demographics, past election results, fundraising totals and polling averages. 

Scott Tranter, the director of data science for Decision Desk HQ, emphasized that the data and projections represent a snapshot in time that could change between now and Election Day.

“This is like taking a test that doesn’t count, like getting a grade in school that doesn’t count,” he said. “No one’s voting today, no one’s picking a president or picking a senator. If they did pick them today, this is probably how I’d hand it out.” 

But the projections may amplify the already high anxiety felt within the Democratic Party over where they stand as spring turns to summer.

Polls have consistently found President Biden trailing Trump in swing states, and the conflict in Gaza has amplified the Democrat’s problems with young and minority voters, two key parts of the coalition that helped him win election in 2020.

Polls also show voters are unhappy with the economy and Biden’s handling of economic issues.

Trump is facing a number of legal issues, and a jury could deliver a verdict as early as this week in his New York criminal trial. Yet the cases have not prevented Trump from holding a lead in polls over Biden, both nationally and in swing states.

In the battle for the Senate, Democrats are dealing with a difficult map that has them defending seats in two states, Montana and Ohio, where Trump is the heavy favorite in the presidential race. Without victories in both of those states, Democrats will almost certainly lose the Senate.

Democrats have been hopeful about winning back the House majority, but the forecast from Decision Desk HQ/The Hill shows they are an underdog in that race as well.

Decision Desk HQ and The Hill’s forecast model shows the probabilities of each presidential candidate winning in each state, taking into account the polling average that they have been tracking for months along with various other factors. 

Tranter said the organization then takes an “ensemble approach” in which various algorithms consider the data and those results are averaged out to create the probabilities seen in the maps. Decision Desk HQ looks at how predictive different variables have been in past elections to determine which to weigh more heavily in reaching the probabilities for this year. 

Trump leads Biden in Decision Desk HQ/The Hill’s polling average in each of the six battlegrounds that will likely decide the election, though the “blue wall” states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are razor-tight and within 2 points. If Biden holds all three of those states, he could afford to lose the swing states of North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada and still win the election.  

Biden’s low approval ratings have sparked concern among Democrats that Biden could not only lose the White House but be a drag on other candidates. Some Senate Democrats running in tough reelection fights this year have distanced themselves from Biden.

The Biden campaign and allies have said Election Day is still too far away to be concerned with polls, as many voters are still not paying close attention to the race.

Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright said one of Biden’s strengths is he has experience, and that he and the campaign veterans around him have learned “not to panic when everybody else is panicking.”

He pointed to the 2022 midterm elections in which many commentators predicted a “red wave” in congressional elections that did not materialize. 

“The worst thing you can do is peak too soon in politics,” he said, arguing that many have not yet tuned in.

Trumpism hasn’t been defined in the way it will be by the fall, and Trump has not yet hit the “most extreme” that he will before November, he said.  

Republicans, however, are bullish on their chances.

GOP strategist Ron Bonjean said the trend is “moving in Trump’s direction” and the legal battles Trump is facing have not hurt him. 

“Having said that, the election is still months away, and the one person that can get in Trump’s way is himself,” he said. 

In a good sign for Democrats down ballot, many are running ahead of Biden. The Decision Desk HQ/The Hill model found that Democratic Senate candidates have a higher chance to prevail in all but one of the Senate battlegrounds — Montana, where Sen. Jon Tester (D) faces a difficult battle.

Even in Ohio, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) is favored in the Decision Desk HQ/The Hill model. It finds Brown now has a 62 percent chance of winning, in large part due to his strong polling. 

Tranter noted that ticket splitting has become more significant since Trump entered the political scene.

The fact that Democratic candidates for the Senate are running ahead of Biden suggests some portion of the electorate in those states could be ready to split their tickets, he said.

In addition, he said the strong fundraising totals by some Democrats could be another sign of future ticket splitting.

In the end, Tranter suggested Republicans should feel good about where they are but not take anything for granted. Even a change of 2 or 3 points in polling in a few states could dramatically affect the model’s forecast, he said. 

“This is a good reference point,” he said. “This is a good thing, if you’re a Democrat or Republican candidate, to say, ‘Hey, this is where I’m at today, but I still got six months to go.’”

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