Four key points on divisive Trump's path to reelection

Sebastian Smith
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Is it lights out or a new dawn for US President Donald Trump, who faces poor poll numbers but can still find a way to victory in his 2020 reelection battle

Is it lights out or a new dawn for US President Donald Trump, who faces poor poll numbers but can still find a way to victory in his 2020 reelection battle (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

Washington (AFP) - Donald Trump is a deeply divisive figure and his current 2020 election poll numbers are horrible. But things can still go his way and save the Republican from becoming a one-term president.

Here are four factors that will decide whether Trump pulls off another famous victory.

- Never mind the popular vote -

A quirk of the US system is that you don't always have to have the most votes across the country to win the presidency. You need the most electoral college votes, which are handed out by individual states, depending on their population size.

Usually the popular and the electoral college results match.

But in 2016 Hillary Clinton got almost 2.9 million more votes nationwide and still lost, because Trump won the popular vote in enough key states to scoop up a 304 to 227 electoral college advantage.

Once more, attention will turn to the swing states rich in those electoral college votes.

Wisconsin, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania stand out because Trump managed to flip them from the Democrats in 2016.

Latest polls show Trump struggling in all six. But remember: these are early days and in 2016 many polls, even right before the election, turned out to be wrong.

- Base to the rescue? -

After more than two years of a tumultuous presidency, Trump has lower national approval ratings than any president since the 1940s other than Jimmy Carter, according to figures compiled by FiveThirtyEight.

Latest numbers are 53 percent disapproval to 42.5 percent approval.

By contrast, Trump's predecessor Barack Obama at the same point in his presidency had 47.5 percent approval.

In fact, Trump has rarely got out of the low 40s throughout his presidency.

That said, he currently enjoys a blistering 87 percent approval rating from Republicans, according to Gallup, and this number has always hovered close to 90 percent.

That's a big base if he can get them all to vote -- then adds a slice of the undecideds.

- Election machine -

In 2016, Trump ran a by-the-seat-of-the-pants campaign befitting someone who'd never once held elected office.

This time, the campaign brims with tested leaders, a $40 million war chest, and a sophisticated social media strategy.

There's also the matter of footsoldiers -- the volunteers who knock on doors and spread enthusiasm. Trump has his army ready to go, after collecting data on tens of thousands of people attending his Make America Great Again rallies around the country.

- Depends on opponent -

Trump faces the uncertainty of not knowing for months to come who his opponent will be. An unwieldy 23 candidates are lining up to become the Democratic nominee.

That means Trump cannot tailor his message.

If he gets the current frontrunner Joe Biden, a former vice president, he'll likely argue that even as the incumbent, he's the disruptive candidate, while Biden would mean going back to the past.

If he gets the increasingly popular Senator Elizabeth Warren, Trump will probably focus on his claim that the Democrats are hard-left socialists -- hoping to scare enough of those middle-of-the-road voters over into his camp.

On the other side of the coin, the waiting game gives Trump a massive advantage: while the Democrats fight each other, he can campaign and keep building money and volunteers.