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Poll: Donald Trump holds overwhelming lead in Iowa; Ron DeSantis edges ahead of Nikki Haley

© Copyright 2023, Des Moines Register and Tribune Co.

Donald Trump’s support now tops 50% in Iowa, where the former president has strengthened his already overwhelming lead over Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis − neither of whom has fully broken away as the clear second choice.

A new Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows 51% of likely Republican caucusgoers pick Trump as their first choice for president, up from 43% in an October Iowa Poll.

DeSantis, who was tied with Haley at 16% in October, has gained 3 percentage points to pull away from her in second place with 19%.

Haley had seen a burst of momentum in Iowa between August and October, growing her share of support from 6% to 16% following well-received debate performances. In recent weeks, she has snagged a major endorsement from Americans For Prosperity Action, part of the Koch political network, and has amassed support from major donors looking for an alternative to Trump.

But those efforts have not resulted in a bump in the latest Iowa Poll, and she remains flat at 16% − even as other candidates have dropped out.

More: Iowa Poll shows Trump has majority support. How big is his lead over DeSantis and Haley?

“The field may have shrunk, but it may have made Donald Trump even stronger than he was,” said pollster J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co., which conducted the Iowa Poll. “I would call his lead commanding at this point. There's not much benefit of fewer candidates for either Ron DeSantis or Nikki Haley.”

No other candidate tops 5%.

Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who says he is on track to campaign twice in each of Iowa’s 99 counties before Caucus Day, is in a distant fourth place at 5%.

That’s just a touch better than former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has not campaigned in Iowa at all and sits at 4%.

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has not qualified to participate in the last three GOP debates, is at 1%. And Texas pastor Ryan Binkley is at 0% for the third straight poll.

With five weeks until Caucus Day, there’s still room for movement, even as likely Republican caucusgoers begin cementing their decisions. Forty-nine percent of poll respondents say their minds are made up, while another 46% say they could still be persuaded to support another candidate.

Five percent do not have a first-choice candidate yet.

The poll of 502 likely Republican caucusgoers was conducted Dec. 2-7 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

Greater share believes Donald Trump can win against Joe Biden

Though the rest of the field is largely stagnant, Trump’s hold on his front-runner status has only gotten stronger − even as his criminal trials advance and his legal fights come into sharper focus.

The share of Iowa’s likely Republican caucusgoers who are confident that Trump can win an election against Democratic President Joe Biden, despite the 91 felony charges he faces across four criminal cases, has grown 8 percentage points since October.

According to the poll, 73% say they believe Trump can beat Biden, regardless of his legal challenges. That’s up from 65% in October.

Another 24% say Donald Trump’s legal challenges will make it nearly impossible for him to win an election against Joe Biden − down from 32% in October.

But there’s a divide between DeSantis supporters and Haley supporters on whether they believe Trump can win in the face of his legal challenges.

Among DeSantis supporters, more think Trump can win regardless of what’s happening in the courts (59%) than say it’s nearly impossible for him to win (36%).

A majority of Haley supporters − 65% − say it’s nearly impossible for Trump to win against Biden given his legal challenges. Another 34% say Trump can win regardless of his legal standing.

“This is one of the clear differentiating points between DeSantis and Haley, is the affinity for DeSantis supporters and Trump and the disaffinity between Haley supporters and Trump,” Selzer said.

3 in 4 likely caucusgoers say Donald Trump’s views strike the right balance

Nearly three-quarters of likely caucusgoers say Trump is the “Goldilocks” choice when it comes to ideology, with 71% saying he is neither too conservative nor too moderate, but instead is “about right.” Another 18% say he is too conservative, and 7% say he’s too moderate.

Majorities also say DeSantis and Haley strike the right ideological balance.

For DeSantis, 60% agree that his views are about right, 20% say he’s too conservative and 15% believe he’s too moderate.

Fifty-five percent say Haley’s views are about right, 12% say she’s too conservative and 23% say she’s too moderate.

A plurality say Ramaswamy gets it about right, at 49%, whereas a plurality say Christie is too moderate, 42%.

Ashley Nutt, 43, a poll respondent and West Des Moines resident, said she voted for Trump twice but now has “Trump fatigue.” In addition to the negativity, she said, she sees Trump as too moderate.

She believes he isn’t fiscally conservative and is too open to abortion. Trump has called Florida’s six-week abortion ban, similar to one passed in Iowa, a “terrible mistake.”

Instead, Nutt plans to caucus for DeSantis.

“I like that he's younger, and he brings a fresher perspective than Trump,” she said.

Nutt said she appreciates how DeSantis has run Florida as governor.

“I think they did take the correct approach during the pandemic,” she said. “I liked that he was willing to change his mind. He was more locked down originally, and then he did change course of action when he had more evidence.”

Donald Trump leads every demographic group, expands strength with first-time caucusgoers

Trump has grown his lead over his next-closest competitor from 27 percentage points in October to 32 points now.

The former president leads with every demographic group tested in the Iowa Poll.

He leads with every age group, with self-identified Republicans and with independent caucusgoers.

He leads with those who have a college degree and with those who do not. He leads across every income bracket. He leads with evangelicals, often a consequential voting bloc in the Iowa Caucuses.

And he leads with rural residents, suburban residents and city dwellers.

“Trump’s competitive position has improved markedly,” Selzer said.

Trump does best among those without a college degree (61%), those with an income of less than $50,000 (61%), men 65 and older (66%) and white men without a college degree (66%).

Among evangelicals, Trump leads with 51% (up from 44% in October). DeSantis gets 26% (up from 22%), Haley gets 12% (down from 15%), and Ramaswamy is at 5% (up from 3%).

Trump has also expanded his lead with first-time caucusgoers.

In October, 49% of first-time caucusgoers said he was their first choice for president. That’s up to 63% now. DeSantis is at 12% and Haley is at 11%.

“I just think our voting and election is broken. And I want to just put more into it than just going to vote,” said Dehnel Eekhoff, a poll respondent who plans to caucus for the first time for Trump in January.

Eekhoff, 62, a small-business owner from Eagle Grove, said she doesn’t trust the electoral system after the 2020 election and believes it’s time to step up. She said she has lived in Iowa and has been around the caucuses, but things have always come up in the past that have prevented her from participating.

She said her support is firmly behind Trump this cycle.

“I've looked at the other candidates,” she said. “I have studied them and have tried to learn more about them. I mean, I'm not a closed-minded person, but not one of them has impressed me.”

Eekhoff said she believes it’s important to participate in the caucuses going forward to protect their place on the political calendar.

“I just think that people in Iowa need to pay attention to what's going on, or we're not going to be first in the nation as far as caucuses and getting our opinions out there,” she said.

Even among his weakest demographic groups, Trump still leads his competitors.

That includes independents − 36% of whom say Trump is their top choice for president. Another 23% pick Haley, 17% are for DeSantis, 8% are with Christie and 7% pick Ramaswamy.

Trump also gets support from 30% of white women with a college degree, 36% of suburbanites, 37% of white men with a college degree and 39% of all those with a college degree.

Donald Trump overtakes Ron DeSantis in caucus footprint, favorable ratings

The October Iowa Poll offered a couple of bright spots for DeSantis.

His total footprint − including those who said he was their first or second choice or were considering him − was equal to Trump’s. And he was viewed favorably by the highest percentage of likely Republican caucusgoers.

Now, Trump has overtaken DeSantis in both.

Where are DeSantis, Trump, Haley? Follow them on our 2024 Iowa Caucuses Candidate Tracker

Overall, 76% of likely Republican caucusgoers say they are considering caucusing for Trump, up from 67% in October.

That 76% includes the 51% who say he is their first choice, 13% who say he is their second choice and 11% who say they are actively considering him.

That’s better than DeSantis, with 67% who say they are considering caucusing for him. That’s unchanged from 67% who said the same in October.

His footprint includes 19% who say he is their first choice, 30% who say he is their second choice and 18% who say they are actively considering him.

Haley’s footprint of 52% also is relatively unchanged from October, when it was 54%. It includes the 16% who say she is their first choice, 17% who say she is their second choice and 19% who say they are actively considering her.

Trump now has the highest favorability ratings he’s scored in a precaucus Iowa Poll, besting DeSantis, who was viewed favorably by the largest share of likely caucusgoers in October.

Today, Trump is viewed favorably by 72%, after getting 66% in October. And he is viewed unfavorably by 28%, compared with 32% in October. Just 1% are not sure.

DeSantis is viewed favorably by 66%, compared with 69% in October. He is viewed unfavorably by 29%, up slightly from 26% in October. Another 5% aren’t sure.

Haley is viewed favorably by 59%, which is unchanged from October. She is viewed unfavorably by 31%, compared with 29% in October. Another 10% are not sure.

Most Donald Trump supporters are locked; enthusiasm wanes for Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley

Trump’s supporters continue to be more locked in and enthusiastic.

Among those who name Trump as their first choice for president, 70% say their minds are made up, while 30% could be persuaded to support someone else.

For Trump’s competitors, fewer say they are firm in their choice.

Among DeSantis’ supporters, 30% say their minds are made up, while 70% could be persuaded. And for Haley’s supporters, 34% are locked in while 65% could be persuaded.

Trump supporters also remain more enthusiastic.

Overall, 31% of likely caucusgoers say they are extremely enthusiastic about their first choice for president.

Among Trump voters, it’s 45% − about on par with the 47% who said the same in October.

But enthusiasm has waned among DeSantis voters. Today 16% say they are extremely enthusiastic about their choice − a decrease from the 25% who said they were extremely enthusiastic in October.

For Haley, 21% of her supporters are extremely enthusiastic, compared with 19% in October. But the share of those saying they’re only mildly enthusiastic has grown from 19% to 39%.

Selzer said the poll represents, for Haley, a “what could be termed a failure to launch” after showing momentum going into the October poll. That lack of enthusiasm could be a possible cause, she noted.

Demographically, Haley has a few high points over DeSantis.

She does better with independents, getting 23% to DeSantis’ 17%, as well as with women 65 and older, getting 23% to DeSantis’ 16%.

DeSantis’ support is flatter across demographic groups.

“While DeSantis has no real profile, Haley has pockets of seeming strength,” Selzer said.

William Felderman, 28, a Ventura resident and poll respondent, plans to caucus for Haley. He said he appreciates Haley’s experience, particularly when it comes to international relations.

“It seems like there's a lot of turmoil just globally, so having somebody who is not shooting from the hip, so to speak, on foreign policy, I think would be really valuable,” he said. “So that would kind of set her apart from like a Ron DeSantis or somebody else.”

Felderman said he doesn’t want to see Trump win the nomination, in part because he doesn’t think Trump would fare well in a rematch against Biden.

“Nikki Haley just has probably a better appeal to independents and new voters,” he said. “And so, to me, that makes her a strong choice.”

Brianne Pfannenstiel is the chief politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at bpfann@dmreg.com or 515-284-8244. Follow her on Twitter at @brianneDMR.

About the Iowa Poll

The Iowa Poll, conducted Dec. 2-7, 2023, for The Des Moines Register, NBC News and Mediacom by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, is based on telephone interviews with 502 registered voters in Iowa who say they will definitely or probably attend the 2024 Republican caucuses.

Interviewers with Quantel Research contacted 3,733 randomly selected voters from the Iowa secretary of state’s voter registration list by telephone. The sample was supplemented with additional phone number lookups. Interviews were administered in English. Responses for all contacts were adjusted by age, sex and congressional district to reflect their proportions among voters in the list.

Questions based on the sample of 502 voters likely to attend the 2024 Iowa Republican caucuses have a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. This means that if this survey were repeated using the same questions and the same methodology, 19 times out of 20, the findings would not vary from the true population value by more than plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. Results based on smaller samples of respondents — such as by gender or age — have a larger margin of error.

Republishing the copyright Iowa Poll without credit to The Des Moines Register, NBC News and Mediacom is prohibited.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowa Poll: DeSantis, Haley unable to shrink Trump's overwhelming lead