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Predictions 2024: Understanding the US Presidential Election and its Impact

Americans go to the polls in November to elect a president for the next four years. What are the predictions for its outcome and how should Japan respond?



Happy New Year to JAPAN Forward readers. We are pleased to bring you "Predictions 2024," a special New Year's series sharing the foresight and expectations of selected contributors for the coming year in their fields of specialty, continuing with Ichiro Fujisaki, former Japanese ambassador to the United States (2008-12), President the America-Japan Society, Inc.

Next in the Series

The eyes of the world will be on this fall 2024's United States presidential election. Issues involving Ukraine, Gaza, North Korea, and China will naturally have a major impact on the outcome.

The last presidential election in 2020 was a decisive battle for both the Democratic and Republican parties. The challenger Joe Biden received 81 million votes, while the incumbent Donald Trump garnered 74 million votes. Seeing as how up till then, the highest number of votes won in a US presidential election in history was 68 million votes for Barack Obama, it is obvious how desperately both sides tried to dig up votes. 

Although Biden won the popular vote by more than seven million votes, the outcome of the election was actually much closer. That is because, under the electoral college system used in the US to elect presidents, there are a total of 538 electors. 

How It Works

Each state is allotted a number of electoral votes equal to the total number of seats it has in the US Congress (Senate and House of Representatives), which are based on Census results. Thus California currently has 55 electors, Texas has 38, Florida has 29, Massachusetts has 11 and Wyoming has three. 

A candidate must get an absolute majority of 270 votes to win. Nearly all the states have adopted a winner-take-all system so that if a candidate receives just one vote more than his opponent, he wins all that state's electoral votes.  


It is often said that the Midwestern "Rust Belt," which consists of about ten states that produce products such as steel and automobiles, act as swing states. They can go to either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. However, in the 2020 presidential election, only one of the four states that decided the election by going for Biden, Wisconsin, is in the Midwest. The results for those four states are shown below. The number of electoral votes the state had is shown in parentheses.

If the results in these four states had been different, then Biden would have ended up with 263 electoral votes versus 275 for Trump, who would have been declared the victor. It is because the outcomes in these states were so close that Trump continues to doggedly claim that he won the election. 

Biden's total margin of victory in these four states was less than 80,000 votes. If those 80,000 voters had abstained from voting, Trump would have won reelection. Those 80,000 votes represent a mere 0.05 percent of the more than 150 million votes cast in the election. Who could have predicted numbers like that?

Donald Trump (left) and Joe Biden in November 2020. (© Sankei)

Becoming the Party's Candidate in 2024

The results in 2024 will also probably end up impossible to forecast. Many of the "experts" who make predictions in the media only parrot the overall trends and public opinion climate. They do not analyze and understand the detailed figures for each state.

As things stand today, Biden and Trump enjoy overwhelming leads in their respective parties and are likely to meet in a rematch. Yet they are not shoo-ins to be nominated by their respective parties. Both are quite old, and Trump is being prosecuted in multiple court cases. 

Trump's eligibility under the Constitution is also being questioned because of his alleged involvement in an insurrection. There is also the question of how many votes Robert F Kennedy Jr, who is running as an Independent, will take from the frontrunners. 

Donald Trump's Popularity

Why does Trump continue to enjoy overwhelming support among Republican voters even though he has been indicted on multiple charges? To understand that, we need to consider the background. Whereas in 1990 there were 3.5 million illegal immigrants in the US, by 2010 that number had tripled to more than ten million. Meanwhile, The number of workers in the manufacturing sector declined from 18 million in 1998 to 11 million in 2011.

At the same time, the proportion of total wealth owned by the richest 0.1 percent rose from 1.8 percent in 1990 to 18 percent in 2020. Many workers have embraced Trump's message:

Up until now American workers have been made fools of. From now on, instead of having US companies invest abroad, we will have foreign companies invest in the US and create jobs for American workers. I will not let you be hurt anymore. 

Trump rejected in their entirety the policies of his predecessor, President Obama. Regarding the environment, he withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement. He also withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council and proceeded with the development of small nuclear weapons. 


As president, he also declared that countries could choose whether they wanted to be a democracy. He argued that US allies were enjoying a free ride regarding defense. At the same time, he sought to develop personal ties with authoritarian leaders like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un.

US President Joe Biden at the White House. December 12, 2023. (©Reuters by Leah Millis)

Comparing Joe Biden

Since becoming president, Biden has in turn reversed all of these moves by Trump. He had the US rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and the UN Human Rights Council. And he stopped the development of mini-nukes. 

Biden has emphasized alliances as the most productive aspect of US diplomacy, orchestrating a democracy summit. On the other hand, his relations with Putin have been very rocky and Biden has not met once with Kim. In nearly all these respects, he has reversed Trump. 

Similarities Between the Two

But at the same time, even though the Biden Administration would be loath to admit it, it has been influenced by Trump in some respects. One of these is its "America First" policies. The speech on diplomacy that Antony Blinken gave after becoming Secretary of State was rather shocking. He clearly asserted that the US government had erred concerning foreign trade in that it had not given sufficient thought to its negative impacts. Henceforth, Blinken said, the government would fight for US workers. 

Moreover, in his State of the Union address at the beginning of 2023, Biden stated that although the Buy America Act had existed since 1933 none of his predecessors had implemented it effectively. He further declared that in the future only US companies would be allowed to bid on contracts for infrastructure built with money from the US government. That despite the existence of the WTO Government Procurement Agreement. 

Another point of similarity between the two administrations is their hardline stance towards China. Sanctions on China have remained in place. And in terms of personal relations, Michelle Obama's 2014 visit with her two daughters to China as a guest of Xi Jinping's wife now seems like nothing more than a dream on a spring night. 

The White House in Washington, DC. (©Cezary Piwowarczyk via Wikimedia Commons)


If Trump returns to the Oval Office, we can expect even more inward-looking policies than in his first term. Illegal immigrants will be forcibly deported. And several thousand US troops stationed overseas will be brought back to guard the border with Mexico. 

Also, regulations on the US oil and gas industries will be relaxed. Meanwhile, tariffs on foreign goods will be raised across the board. The US will also fail to comply with World Trade Organization obligations to apply the same tariffs to Chinese products as products from other countries. 

Trump has promised a long list of changes. Of course, considering precedent, it is possible that all of these changes will not be implemented if he actually takes office. Nonetheless, we should prepare ourselves for some big changes.

Japan's Position

How then should Japan respond? That is an easy question to answer. We should keep quiet until election day. 


And then once the results are known, we should say: "Congratulations! Well done! Let's keep on (or Let's again…) work together." The phrasing can be adjusted depending on who comes out the victor. 

After all the choice is up to the American people. 

So, what else could we say?


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Ichiro Fujisaki
Ichiro Fujisaki is the President of the America-Japan Society, Inc and the former Japanese ambassador to the United States (2008-12). 

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