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The 2024 Elections Will Be a Wild Ride

We're in for fiery, competitive races for governor, Congress and president of the United States

spinner image Voters will decide competitive elections for governor, Congress and president in 2024.
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Buckle up! The 2024 election officially got underway Jan. 15 when Iowa Republicans gathered in school gymnasiums, firehouses, places of worship and meeting halls to caucus for their choice to be the nominee for the presidency of the United States. They assembled as the country got ready for an historic rematch of presidential candidates and a long and rancorous election season.

While the election for the highest office in the land will undoubtedly take center stage, Americans will have many other big decisions to make at the polls — starting in primary season and continuing through the Nov. 5 general election. Your vote for county council member, mayor, state elected officials, governor, senator and member of the U.S. House of Representatives will determine what course your city, town, state and country will take over the next few years.

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All 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives will be up for grabs this fall. As of March 6, Republicans held a slim six-vote margin (219-213) with three vacant seats. The U.S. Senate majority is even closer. Democrats control the Senate 51-49, with three of those 51 seats held by senators who are independents but caucus with the Democrats. The upper chamber will have 34 of its 100 seats up for election this fall. Of those, 23 are currently controlled by Democrats and the three independents, and 11 are held by Republicans.

spinner image in the twenty twenty four elections thirty four of one hundred senate seats are up for grabs as well as eleven of fifty governor seats and of course all four hundred thirty five house of representative seats are up as happens every two years

Political science experts and pollsters AARP interviewed agree that the country could be looking at an election this year the likes of which we haven’t seen in more than a century: one in which both major-party candidates have been president of the United States. 

Democratic President Joe Biden is seeking his second consecutive term, and Republican former president Donald Trump (2017–2021) wants to return to the White House for a second four years. Trump bested a dozen GOP hopefuls with his last challenger, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, ending her bid for the presidency after Trump won all but one primary contest on Super Tuesday, March 5. Biden and Trump will be officially nominated at their party conventions this summer, but with Haley’s exit the Biden-Trump rematch is basically set. 

“You’d have to go back to the Grover Cleveland elections," says Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, to find another head-to-head rematch of people who are or have been president. In 1888, President Cleveland was defeated for reelection by Benjamin Harrison. Four years later, Cleveland ran against Harrison again and won. Cleveland became — and still is — the only president in American history to be elected to a nonconsecutive second term. 

A similar matchup happened in 1912 when Woodrow Wilson won a three-way race against incumbent President William Taft and Taft’s predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, who ran as a third-party candidate and received more than 27 percent of the popular vote.

“Basically, no one alive now was alive when those things happened,” Kondik says. “So, in modern times this would really be groundbreaking.” As of now Biden is seen as a lock to be renominated, and Trump is leading his last GOP challenger in all national and state polls.

Issues could matter in this election cycle

“I think one of the things that will make this election very different is that with Trump and Biden, Americans wouldn’t have to imagine what it would be like having them as president,” says Kristen Soltis Anderson, a GOP political analyst and pollster. “Voters will already have a pretty clear picture of what they’d be getting when they go to the polls.”

Democratic pollster John Anzalone agrees, adding that with the country continuing to be so politically divided, this race “basically starts out at dead even.” And Democratic strategist Celinda Lake predicts “a record amount of spending. There also [is] going to be record amounts of negative advertising.”

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With Americans so familiar with the two presidential nominees, experts say that unlike in more recent contests, issues will matter. And there’s another unusual twist: Contrary to the conventional wisdom coined by former speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, in this year’s contests, all politics may not be local.

Veteran GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio says he doesn’t know if issues will play a bigger role in this election than in previous ones, but he believes they will be important. “The personalities are kind of already baked into the election,” Fabrizio says. “These are well-defined political figures. There are stark differences in their beliefs on economic policy, foreign policy, the border, energy independence. Where voters are on those issues will make a difference.”

A December public opinion poll by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 4 in 10 adults see foreign policy as an important issue for the government to pay attention to in 2024. That’s more than twice as many people as named that issue in a similar poll a year ago.

“We do have two wars going on, and you know foreign policy normally isn’t that big of an issue to voters, and it may not be top of mind, but it is certainly a secondary issue with the war going on in Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas war,” Anzalone says. Whether foreign policy continues to resonate with voters, he says, will depend on the status of those conflicts when voters go to the polls for the general election.

Experts agree domestic issues will still be top of mind for voters, especially the economy. The AP poll, which was conducted between Nov. 30 and Dec. 4, found that 76 percent of U.S. adults want the government to focus on economic issues. That’s essentially the same as the 75 percent who listed that as their main concern in 2022.

Older voters will decide 2024 elections

A question that perennially vexes political experts and campaign strategists is how many voters will turn out. 

“I think we’ll probably see record turnout again,” says Fabrizio. “One thing is absolutely true: that when Donald Trump is on the ballot, he drives out his supporters and he drives out his opponents.” But Kondik from the University of Virginia says turnout could well be lower than in 2020 because some voters who were more motivated to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic may not go to the polls this year.

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Americans have flocked to the polls in droves in recent years. In the 2020 presidential election, turnout was nearly 67 percent of eligible voters. That was the highest voter turnout in the 21st century, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In that election, the highest turnout was among voters ages 65 to 74, at 76 percent, while the lowest participation rate was in ages 18 to 24, at just over 51 percent. 

Experts agree that, once again in this election, older voters will make the difference. 

“History dictates and continues to show that older voters are the most consistent voters when it comes to turning out to vote,” says John Hishta, AARP senior vice president of campaigns. “They will continue to play an outsize role, and it would behoove candidates to really pay attention to what older voters care about.”

In the 2024 election, AARP is asking voters and candidates to focus on two key issues for the 50-plus population: Social Security and caregiving.

“Social Security is the number one economic issue, along with rising costs and whether Social Security keeps up with rising costs,” says Lake, the Democratic strategist. But, she adds, “caregiving is an issue that is massively undertapped, and I think it’s a real umbrella for the economy, particularly for women 40 to 65.” 

AARP “is going to encourage candidates to really talk about caregiving and Social Security,” Hishta says. The organization has produced two video voter guides where GOP primary contenders outline what they would do to protect Social Security and support the 48 million family caregivers in this country. The organization has also created a 30-minute program on Social Security that is being released in the early primary states. 

Lake says the election could well turn on whom older voters, especially older women, support.

“Older men tend to be more decided and more polarized and more partisan,” Lake says. “Older women tend to be more undecided. They’re very insecure about what is going on in the world. And so, they’re looking for who has the right kind of leadership internationally, the right kind of strength, but the right kind of temperament as well.”

In addition to focusing on the issues most important for older Americans, Hishta says AARP will continue to play its long-standing role of helping people 50-plus know the rules of the road when it comes to how, where and when they can vote. AARP state offices nationwide will focus on voter education, and voter guides for 53 states and territories and the District of Columbia will be available online and in the AARP Bulletin.

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