Poll: DeSantis leads Trump for 2024 GOP nod — but not if Haley and others split the vote
The Florida governor edges out Trump and performs better against Biden in head-to-head matchups.
A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows that in a head-to-head matchup, more Republican voters would cast their ballots for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (45%) than for former President Donald Trump (41%) if the party’s 2024 presidential primary were held today.
Yet if even one additional Republican candidate challenges Trump and DeSantis for the nomination, splitting the party’s “anti-Trump” vote, the former president would take the lead.
The survey of 1,585 U.S. adults, which was conducted from Feb. 2 to 6, vividly illustrates the dilemma facing GOP officials who believe that renominating Trump could doom the party’s chances in 2024: How do you narrow the field enough to prevent the former president from skirting past a divided opposition with less than 50% of the vote (just as he did in 2016)?
Even now — months before he is expected to announce his candidacy — DeSantis already appears to be stronger than Trump. Besides leading Trump in a hypothetical, two-candidate GOP primary contest, the Florida governor (44%) also edges out President Biden (43%) in a general election matchup.
In contrast, Trump currently trails Biden by 6 percentage points, 41% to 47%, among registered voters. This is in large part because he performs 3 points worse than DeSantis among Republicans and 9 points worse among independents.
The problem for DeSantis — and for the majority of Republican and Republican-leaning voters who say they’d prefer “someone else” other than Trump as the GOP nominee (40%) or still aren’t sure (14%) — is that the Floridian will not have the former president all to himself.
In fact, at least five other GOP candidates are reportedly recruiting staffers in the early nominating states of Iowa and New Hampshire. And former South Carolina Gov. and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley is set to officially launch her 2024 bid on Feb. 15.
Informed of this news, registered voters who are Republicans and Republican leaners approve (48%) rather than disapprove (22%) of Haley’s decision to run by a more than 2-to-1 margin. Yet nearly a third (30%) say they are unsure, and few are ready to vote for her. While Haley’s support in a hypothetical nine-candidate field has risen significantly since January — from 1% to 5% — Trump would currently trounce her 54% to 27% in a head-to-head primary contest.
And given that Haley is currently polling better than any non-Trump or non-DeSantis Republican on the 2024 longlist, former Vice President Mike Pence (4%), former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (2%) or former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (1%) would be unlikely to represent a greater one-on-one threat to Trump.
For now, at least, only DeSantis can displace Trump as the GOP frontrunner — and he can do it only if no one else is competing for the anti-Trump vote. In a hypothetical three-way matchup, Haley effectively plays the spoiler, attracting 11% of Republicans and Republican leaners — while DeSantis’s support falls by roughly the same amount (to 35%), leaving Trump with more votes than either of them (38%).
In a wider, nine-candidate field, the results are nearly identical, with Trump (37%) again losing far less support than DeSantis (36%) and narrowly maintaining his lead.
To be sure, the first GOP caucuses and primaries are still a year away. A few candidates will probably come and go before the first ballots are even cast. Someone who isn’t registering now could always take off.
Still, it’s already clear that anti-Trump Republicans will likely want the field to shrink as much as possible by the time voting begins — or else risk propelling Trump to the nomination once again with a mere plurality of the vote.
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,585 U.S. adults interviewed online from Feb. 2 to 6, 2023. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (32% Democratic, 27% Republican). Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.8%.