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One of the remarkable features of American politics in 2024 is that an actual majority of Americans, and possibly even of Americans who are going to vote in November, have no idea what’s happening in regard to such extremely basic questions as who is going to be the Democratic and Republican candidates for president in November:

More than 550 polls have been tracked since January 2023 in Decision Desk HQ/The Hill’s polling average, and Trump currently leads Joe Biden by 2.2 points nationally. On Election Day in 2020, Biden led Trump by more than 7 points, per polling averages, and he won the popular vote by 4.5 points. Since then, Trump has been impeached for inciting an insurrection against the U.S. government and is currently facing 91 charges in state and federal courts.

So, what gives? Why is Trump polling ahead this time?

Perhaps it’s the president’s age: Biden will be 81 years old on Election Day and would be 86 at the end of a potential second term. Poll after poll has shown that voters are seriously concerned that he is too old for the job. Fairly or not, voters are much less concerned about Trump’s age (he’ll be 78 on Election Day and would be 82 at the end of another term).

Trump also has a trust advantage on key issues; according to New York Times/Siena polling from October, voters think the former president would do a better job on the economy, national security, immigration and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; Biden has a narrow advantage on democracy and a larger one on abortion.

But there is another possible explanation for Trump’s strong poll numbers: voters don’t fully understand that we’re headed for a rematch.

Pundits, analysts and political junkies (such as ourselves) can read the tea leaves and know that a rematch is all but certain. But voters aren’t so sure. When we speak to our less politically engaged family members and friends (i.e., normal people), we often get asked some version of the following: “Are you sure Biden’s going to run again? Isn’t he pushing it a bit at his age? And Trump winning the primary again? Seriously? Isn’t he going to prison?”

To the extent that voters are shielded from the impending reality that 2024 really will be a rematch, their responses to head-to-head surveys might not reflect how they’ll actually vote in November.

And apparently the extent to which voters “are shielded from the impending reality” is pretty staggering:

According to Decision Desk HQ/NewsNation polling from January, 47 percent of voters think that Trump is very likely to be the Republican nominee, and only 39 percent of voters think that Biden is very likely to be the Democratic nominee. 

Trump is going to beat Nikki Haley by 30 points in her home state today, and then sweep the Super Tuesday primaries ten days later, at which point Haley can withdraw and prepare for a 2028 run in the wake of a Biden victory, which I assume has always been the point of this otherwise pointless exercise.

As for Joe Biden, here’s a spoiler alert: His closest advisers aren’t going to destroy their own careers by attempting to get him to withdraw from the race (Again, this is Ezra Klein’s ACTUAL THEORY as to how that might happen, which is the equivalent of a New York Jets fan’s theory that Patrick Mahomes is going to demand successfully to be released from his $250 million contract with Kansas City so he can sign for the veteran minimum with the Jets, because [step in argument missing].)

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