From the economy to the climate crisis: key issues in the 2024 US election

As a Joe Biden v Donald Trump rematch looms, much is at stake. From the future of reproductive rights to the chances of meaningful action on climate change, from the strength of US support for Ukraine in its war with Russia, and Israel in its war with Hamas, to the fate of US democracy itself, existential issues are firmly to the fore.

Related: Revealed: ‘extremist’ Trump economist plots rightwing overhaul of US treasury

Here’s a look at why.

“It’s the economy, stupid.” So said the Democratic strategist James Carville, in 1992, as an adviser to Bill Clinton. Most Americans thought stewardship of the economy should change: Clinton beat George HW Bush.

Under Biden, the post-Covid recovery remains on track. Unemployment is low, stocks at all-time highs. That should bode well but the key question is whether Americans think Biden’s economy is strong, or think it is working for them, or think Trump was a safer pair of hands, forgetting the chaos of Covid. According to polling, many do prefer Trump. Cost-of-living concerns dominate. Inflation remains a worry. For Biden, Republican threats to social security and Medicare might offset such worries. For Trump, whose base skews older, such threats must be downplayed – though they are present in Republicans’ own transition planning.

House Republicans impeached Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s secretary of homeland security. The Senate quashed that but at Trump’s direction, Republicans sank a bipartisan border and immigration deal. One day in February, Biden and Trump both went to the southern border. Biden highlighted Republican obstruction but called on Trump to work with him, aiming to show voters which party wants to work on the issue. Since then, Trump has focused on denunciations of Biden and claims of border chaos stoked by sinister forces. Expect such contrasts on loop.


Ron DeSantis made attacks on LGBTQ+ rights a hallmark of his attempt to “Make America Florida”. The governor’s failed campaign suggests how well that went down but Republican efforts to demonise so-called “woke” ideology should not be discounted. States have introduced anti-trans legislation, book bans and restrictions on LGBTQ+ issues in education. The US supreme court weighed in by ending race-based affirmative action in college admissions.

Struggles over immigration, and Republicans’ usual focus on crime, show race-inflected battles will play their usual role, particularly as Trump uses extremist “blood and soil” rhetoric. On the Democratic side, a worrying sign: Black and Hispanic support is less sure than it was.

Democrats are clear: they will focus on Republican attacks on abortion rights, from the Dobbs v Jackson supreme court ruling that struck down Roe v Wade to the mifepristone case, draconian bans and candidates’ support for such measures.

It makes tactical sense: the threat to women’s reproductive rights is a rare issue on which Democrats poll very strongly, fuelling electoral wins in conservative states. This year’s Alabama IVF ruling, which said embryos should be legally treated as people, showed the potency of such tactics again: from Trump down, Republicans scrambled to deny wanting to end treatment used by millions.

Trump must balance boasting about ending Roe, by appointing three justices who voted to strike it down, with trying to avoid blame for attacks on reproductive rights even as his supporters call for, and implement, harsher abortion bans. Expect Biden and Democrats to hit and keep on hitting.

Foreign policy

For Biden, the Israel-Gaza war presents a fiendish proposition: how to satisfy or merely mollify both the Israel lobby and large sections of his own party, particularly the left and the young, more sympathetic to the Palestinians.

Spiralling and ongoing campus protests against Israel’s pounding of Gaza show the danger of coming unglued from the base. So do protest votes against Biden in the Democratic primary. Republicans have no such worries: they are simply pro-Israel.

Elsewhere, Biden continues to lead a global coalition in support of Ukraine in its fight against Russia, scoring a win at home in April as the Republican speaker of the US House, Mike Johnson, finally oversaw passage of a new aid bill despite fierce opposition from the right of his party. Throw in the lasting effects of the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan (teed up by Trump, fumbled by Biden), questions about what happens if China attacks Taiwan, and the threat Trump poses to Nato, and heavy fire on foreign policy is guaranteed.


Biden is keen to stress the threat to democracy at home. After all, Trump refused to accept the result of the 2020 election, incited the deadly attack on Congress of 6 January 2021, is linked to plans to slash the federal government in a second term, and even says he wants to be a “dictator” on day one.

Trump maintains the lie that his 2020 defeat was the result of electoral fraud even as his various criminal cases proceed, 14 of 88 charges concerning election subversion. The other 74 charges concern hush-money payments (34, now on trial in New York) and retention of classified information (40, going slowly in Florida).

It should be easy to portray an 88-times indicted potential felon as a threat to constitutional order, particularly given Trump’s clear need to win power as a way of avoiding prison. Accordingly, the issue has been profitable for Biden at the polls. But some doubt its potency. David Axelrod, a close ally of Barack Obama, told the New Yorker: “I’m pretty certain in Scranton [Pennsylvania, Biden’s home town] they’re not sitting around their dinner table talking about democracy every night.”

From forest fires to hurricanes and catastrophic floods, it is clear climate change is real. Polling reflects this: 70% of Americans – strikingly, 50% of Republicans included – want meaningful action. But that isn’t reflected in Republican campaigning. Trump says he doesn’t believe human activity contributes to climate change, nor that climate change is making extreme weather worse, and is opposed to efforts to boost clean energy. Biden’s record on climate may be criticised by campaigners but his record in office places him firmly and clearly against such dangerous views.

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