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Trump vs Biden: who is winning with six months to go?

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Donald Trump has a small polling lead over Joe Biden in the critical swing states with six months to go before US voters elect their next president on November 5.

It marks a stunning reversal for Trump, who exited the White House in 2021 with a record-low approval rating of 29 per cent after a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol on January 6 in a bid to overturn his electoral loss.

More registered voters now view Biden’s presidency to be a failure compared with Trump’s, according to a recent CNN poll — 55 per cent of US respondents said Trump’s presidency was a success compared with 39 per cent for Biden.

Biden’s approval rating has dropped by 19 percentage points since the start of his presidency, to 35 per cent in April, according to Pew Research.

Still, the 2024 election looks to be an exceptionally close rematch of the 2020 race, when just 43,000 votes out of 155mn cast delivered victory for Biden. 

With six months to go, here is where the race stands.

What are the polls saying right now?

National polling has been tight. Trump and Biden are both polling just above 40 per cent, with Trump currently holding a slender edge of 0.8 percentage points, well within bounds of statistical error, according to FiveThirtyEight’s averages. The independent candidate Robert F Kennedy Jr has been polling at about 10 per cent, though support for such candidates tends to be higher in pre-election polling than in actual elections.

But US presidential elections are not decided by a national vote. Rather they are decided by winner-takes-all contests in the 50 states, which send electors to the Electoral College. Whichever candidate secures 270 of the 538 Electoral College votes becomes president.

In seven crucial “swing states” — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — Trump leads Biden by between one and six points.

What are the issues that will decide the election — and who’s leading on them?

The top priority for US voters remains the economy — an issue that has boosted Trump against Biden. 

Overall, 41 per cent of voters trust Trump with the economy, compared with just 35 per cent for Biden, according to the latest Financial Times poll conducted with the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.

A recent CNN poll found that 65 per cent of registered voters called the economy “extremely” important to their vote — higher than any other issue — and near levels not seen since October 2008.

While inflation has certainly hurt Biden, political views of the economy also play a role. Of those who said the economy was “poor”, 41 per cent said a change in political leadership in Washington would improve their perception of the economy, while 37 per cent said lower inflation and 14 per cent said better personal finances.

Other top issues include immigration — where polling suggests voters believe Trump is more competent than Biden — and protecting democracy, preserving abortion rights and lowering healthcare costs. Biden is stronger on the last three.

Most Americans do not vote based on foreign policy. But voters have consistently said they think the US is spending too much on military and financial aid to Ukraine and Israel, according to monthly FT-Michigan Ross polling. This could help Trump.

Though Trump has not said that he will cut funding for either country, the former president has made clear that he expects other countries in Europe to step up their defence spending when it comes to countering Russia. Republicans have also stalled congressional efforts to approve aid to the two countries — only relenting in mid-April after months of deadlock.

Perhaps even more important than the issues is how voters view Biden and Trump as people. 

A majority of voters say Trump, 77, is more physically and mentally fit than Biden, 81, but are less confident that Trump will act ethically in office. According to an April poll by Pew Research, 62 per cent of registered voters said they were not confident Biden is mentally up to the job, compared with 59 per cent who said they were not confident that Trump would act ethically.

Trump is facing four criminal indictments, including federal and state charges that he conspired to overturn the 2020 election. A majority of independent Americans believe Trump is guilty in the four cases, according to a Politico Magazine/Ipsos poll. And 24 per cent of registered voters who support Trump say that if the former president is convicted, they might reconsider, according to a CNN poll.

Who’s got more money and where is it being spent?

Biden has massively outraised Trump in the money race, leaving Biden groups with $66mn more on hand than Trump groups by the end of March.

Trump’s coffers have been drained by his legal fees. His donors have paid $76mn on Trump’s lawyers since January 2023 — 26 per cent of the total raised for the ex-president.

Biden’s campaign has already spent more than $39mn on ads this year, according to AdImpact, compared with $25mn for Trump. But much of Trump’s ad spend went towards the presidential primary, as he fought off well-funded Republican challengers, including Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis.

Future Forward Pac, a pro-Biden super Pac that can raise unlimited sums, has already booked $130mn in ads beginning in September, targeting the seven swing states and Nebraska’s one electoral vote in Omaha.

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