Opinion: The 5 things most likely to affect 2024 presidential election

Photo/Al Drago/The New York Times / President Joe Biden speaks to reporters after a private meeting with Yulia and Dasha Navalnaya, the wife and daughter of the late Russian dissident leader Alexei Navalny, in the parking garage of the Fairmont San Francisco on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024.
Photo/Al Drago/The New York Times / President Joe Biden speaks to reporters after a private meeting with Yulia and Dasha Navalnaya, the wife and daughter of the late Russian dissident leader Alexei Navalny, in the parking garage of the Fairmont San Francisco on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024.

Almost every week, some headline development occurs that seems as if it could impact the 2024 presidential race, such as Donald Trump's virtual invitation for Vladimir Putin to attack some NATO members.

Often, the impact of such events is overstated, either because they only reinforce prior perceptions or because so much else will happen between now and Nov. 5.

But five broad factors — listed here alphabetically — will almost certainly affect the outcome, depending on their prominence in the weeks before the election.

Biden's health. For months, polls have indicated that a major barrier to President Joe Biden's re-election is the widespread belief that, at 81, he is too old. Polls show the mercurial Trump is seen as more competent.

In the end, judgments on Biden's capacities will be greatly affected by how he performs on big events, notably his convention acceptance speech next August and any general election debates — and on whether he avoids illness and any politically dangerous campaign incidents, like platform stumbles.

Economy. Most elections are about the economy, and Democratic strategists believe its continued strength will yet be a Biden asset, despite polls still showing most voters disapprove of his handling of it.

While some polls show increasing public confidence about the economy's future, others show lingering concerns over the fact that prices, while no longer rising, are not dropping — especially rent and grocery prices.

Immigration. Republican efforts to benefit politically from the continuing flow of illegal immigrants on the Southern border — and their influx into northern states and cities — suffered a setback in a New York special congressional election. Democratic victor Tom Suozzi successfully fought back by noting that the Republicans — and Trump — prevented Senate action on a compromise immigration bill imposing stricter procedures on the Biden administration.

A lot will depend on how the issue plays out during the year, especially the level of illegal immigration next October and whether the Biden administration is seen as getting a better handle on it.

Third parties. Polls show a multi-candidate race could help Trump, as it did in 2016, because his base is firmer than Biden's. But Biden may have gotten a boost last week when two prominent prospects for the centrist "No Labels" ticket bowed out.

Retiring West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, said he would not run for president. Former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said he would run for the Senate.

Trump's trials. One New York court set March 25 for his trial on charges of paying "hush money" to a former porn star. Another found him guilty of illegal business practices, fining him nearly $355 million and challenging his already questionable reputation for business probity.

In a third case, Trump may benefit from the ethical controversy surrounding Atlanta District Attorney Fani Willis. And in a fourth, Trump may also benefit if U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, whom he nominated for the bench, slow walks the case charging Trump with taking and refusing to return classified documents.

But the most important pending case is special counsel Jack Smith's four-count Washington indictment for Trump's role in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection that sought to keep Congress from certifying Biden's election.

That case is on hold, pending the Supreme Court's decision on his appeal of the U.S. Court of Appeals ruling rejecting his claim to absolute immunity from criminal prosecution.

Other factors, of course, could impact the election. One would certainly be the Middle East, especially if Israel's war against Hamas is continuing next October.

For the most part, however, these five factors are most likely to determine next November's victor.

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