Election 2020 is still 22 months away, but the political world can't wait.
A decent number of Democrats have already announced their decision to enter the race, a couple of dozen others are coming and pundits are busily assessing the chances of each new candidate to win the nomination.
One of the early questions is whether Democratic voters will look for a centrist candidate with Midwestern appeal or a more ideological nominee aligned with the Trump resistance. Get ready for plenty of comparisons to the challenges Republicans faced when choosing between Tea Party and establishment candidates.
Looking to the general election, The Cook Political Report has already come out with its first ratings, showing that 232 electoral college votes are leaning toward the Democrats, 220 toward the Republicans and 86 are in the toss-up category. The list seems pretty reasonable, and it's a telling sign of shifting coalitions that Arizona is a toss-up but Ohio is not.
The Cook projections suggest that Democrats could defeat President Donald Trump by simply winning back the Midwestern states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. However, winning with a centrist candidate may not be enough for a party that has moved far to the left in recent years.
I understand the political junkie's desire to explore these topics, and I've even done a bit of it myself. ScottRasmussen.com polling found that a generic Democrat would defeat President Trump by 6 points and Mitt Romney by 12.
But while I understand it, I encourage political junkies to remember that most Americans have no idea who most of the Democratic candidates are at this time. At this time in the 2007-2008 cycle, hardly anybody expected that Barack Obama would win the nomination and become a two-term president. The odds of picking a winner at this time are even slimmer.
It doesn't really matter to me if political junkies obsess over the next election, but I do worry that all this early focus on candidates and tactics might divert our attention from the bigger factors that will actually decide the election.
The biggest, of course, is the U.S. economy. Currently, the Job Creators Network/ ScottRasmussen.com Weekly Pulse shows that 45 percent of voters rate the economy as good or excellent. That's not a bad number, but it's down significantly from the mid-50s last fall.
On top of that, our four-week rolling average now shows that 33 percent of voters believe the economy is getting worse, while the just 31 percent say it's getting better. That's the first time we've seen the negative expectations outweigh the positive totals. Perhaps it's just a temporary glitch brought on by the government shutdown and general political dysfunction. We'll figure that out in a month or two.
But if it's a lasting change and we reach a point where people begin to see their own finances getting worse rather than better, the political analysis becomes much easier. It will be just about impossible for President Trump to get re-elected.
If the economy holds up, then there are a number of issues, such as immigration and health care, that pose challenges for both parties. The way those issues are addressed will also have a significant electoral impact.
So if you want to understand election 2020 today, look to what's happening in the real world rather than the political world.
Scott Rasmussen is the publisher of ScottRasmussen.com. He is the author of "The Sun Is Still Rising: Politics Has Failed but America Will Not."