Altogether, four billion people — roughly half of the world’s population — will see their countries go to the polls, according to The Economist. The scale and the stakes make 2024 the most important election year in history.
Not all elections will matter. The Russian presidential elections this year, for example, are a foregone conclusion. Vladimir Putin is staying put. But elections elsewhere may have profound effects within and far beyond.
The outcome of presidential elections in Taiwan could hasten a Chinese invasion. In South Africa, the African National Congress could be out of power for the first time since the fall of apartheid. And when Americans go to the polls in November to choose their president, the very future of our democracy and the U.S. leadership in the world order are at stake.
These are the nine most important national elections taking place in 2024:
1. United States
Presidential and Congressional Elections — November 5, 2024
The Races: Likely a Biden-Trump presidential rematch. Republicans and Democrats vie for control of Congress.
What’s at Stake: Supreme Court appointments; mass deportations; American democracy; the future of the Russia-Ukraine war; and the world order itself.
General elections — Likely April to May 2024
- The Race: Narendra Modi vs. the Rest
- What’s at Stake: Indian secularism and democracy; civil liberties; and the very lives of religious minorities.
Presidential Elections — January 13, 2024
- The race: It’s a three-way competition between Lai Ching-te of the pro-independence ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Hou Yu-ih of the Kuomintang (KMT), which is softer on Beijing, and Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP).
- Key numbers: The latest polls show the race is narrowing, with Lai and Hou virtually tied.
- What’s at stake: The status quo, i.e. Taiwan’s autonomous, democratic existence. Chinese President Xi Jinping, the CIA has assessed, ordered his military to be prepared to invade Taiwan by 2027 — toward the end of the next Taiwanese president’s term.
Go Deeper: China Threat Dominates Taiwan Elections
Presidential and Legislative Elections — February 14, 2024
- The Race: The new dynasty being established by outgoing President Joko Widodo vs. the old guard kingmakers.
- What’s at Stake: The spoils of power.
5. South Africa
General Elections — Likely May 2024
- The race: It’s a three-way battle between the ruling African National Congress (ANC), the newly-formed Multi-Party Charter (MPC) alliance, and the leftist, black nationalist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
- What’s at stake: The ANC is likely to win the most votes, but it could fall below the 50 percent threshold and either be forced to form a coalition government or even lose its hold on power for the first time since the fall of apartheid.
- More: The ANC led the heroic struggle to end apartheid in South Africa. But post-Mandela, the party has been mired in corruption and perceptions of misgovernance. Crime and unemployment remain high. It now faces intensifying challenges from two directions: the MPC, a multiracial coalition that includes center-right parties, and the EFF on the left.
- Key Data:
- The ANC’s vote share has declined since its peak of 69.7 percent in 2004, falling to 58 percent in 2019. The latest public opinion polls show support for the ANC has fallen to below 50 percent.
- The youth unemployment rate is over 60 percent. Black South Africans are five times as likely as whites and twice as likely as Asian/Indian-origin South Africans to be unemployed.
- Global Impact: Under President Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa has played a more pronounced role as a leader in the Global South. Should the ANC fall, a new tilt in its foreign policy could follow.
Presidential Elections — June 2, 2024
- The race: The center-left Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo vs. the center-right consensus candidate Xochitl Galvez.
- What’s at stake: The legacy of the charismatic President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, also known as AMLO, and the future of his center-left Morena party, founded in 2011. Can Morena stay entact after AMLO?
- More: AMLO, who won by a massive 31 percent margin in 2018, maintains a high approval rating near 70 percent. Mexicans, on the whole, like his social welfare spending, but are less approving of his handling of the economy and security.
- Noteworthy: Morena’s Sheinbaum, who maintains a 20-point-plus lead in the polls, could become Mexico’s first Jewish and first woman president — feats America has yet to achieve.
Presidential Elections — Date Not Yet Announced
- The race: President Nicolás Maduro vs. Unknown.
- What’s at stake: Venezuela could see a pathway out of its long crisis if the Maduro regime and the opposition can come to agreement on more competitive and credible elections. Maduro’s most viable opponent, María Corina Machado, is currently barred from running. If Maduro lets her run, he could pave the way for more sanctions relief, but he could also lose power.
- Global implications: Venezuelans fleeing their imploding economy make up a growing number of the migrants coming in from the U.S. southern border. The Venezuelan economic crisis was deepened by the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign. A solution to the political conflict in Venezuela would not only bring more oil into the market and contribute to price stability, but also ease some of the inflows of migrants into U.S. cities — a challenge that is currently hurting Biden’s bid for reelection this November.
Go Deeper: Venezuela: The Anatomy of a Long Crisis
8. United Kingdom
General Elections — As Early as Spring 2024
- The race: The Labour Party, rising in the polls since Keir Starmer took its helm in April 2020, looks to defeat Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives in disarray and form a government for the first time since 2010.
- What’s at stake: The United Kingdom (UK) is in its worst economic crisis in decades. Politically polarized and mired in stagflation, it faces tough choices ahead, including reforms to the vaunted yet beleaguered National Health System (NHS). Tax cuts for the rich are likely to be part of this spring’s budget — a reflection of how out of touch the Tories are as the UK faces a prolonged cost of living crisis. The challenge for Starmer’s Labour Party is to find a pathway toward growth amid severe budgetary constraints. Starmer’s critics on the left say he too is promoting a version of austerity not too different from that of the Tories.
General Elections — February 8, 2024
- The race: Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan Army fight the specter of imprisoned ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan.
- What’s at stake: Khan, Pakistan’s most popular politician, is behind bars after butting heads with the powerful army, which is now trying to engineer an electoral outcome favorable to Sharif, its former adversary. Neither Khan nor the most viable candidates from his Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) have been allowed to run, even after the party has been gutted by defections and resignations forced by the military. February’s elections, if they indeed take place, will not be a fair fight. The checkered mandate will serve as a sword of Damocles over the next government’s head, denying Pakistan the stability it needs to exit the stagflation trap in which it’s stuck. Pakistan is on the path to another lost decade.
Arif Rafiq is the editor of Globely News. Rafiq has contributed commentary and analysis on global issues for publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Republic, the New York Times, and POLITICO Magazine.
He has appeared on numerous broadcast outlets, including Al Jazeera English, the BBC World Service, CNN International, and National Public Radio.