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Trump’s poll problem in early states like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina



One of Donald Trump’s most tried-and-true political strategies is taking a liability and claiming that his opponents are weaker on that front — no matter the actual evidence. And he’ll just keep saying it over and over again, in hopes of muddying the waters.

Just this week, he has done it by criticizing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) coronavirus pandemic restrictions, though the state enacted some of the country’s least-restrictive pandemic policies and Trump even praised DeSantis at the time for avoiding a true “lockdown.” Trump is also doing it with drug-overdose deaths during the President Biden era, which have risen more slowly than they did during Trump’s presidency and have actually been dropping of late.

Then another Trump comment caught our ear. During an interview with Washington Post contributing columnist Hugh Hewitt on Thursday, Trump continued to try explaining away his DeSantis problem.

“Ron DeSantis is way behind me,” Trump said. “Every once in a while, Fox will put up a phony poll … but I’m way ahead in New Hampshire. I’m way ahead in South Carolina. I’m way ahead in Iowa.”

Those last assertions are very far from true. And they spotlight an important aspect of the nascent 2024 GOP campaign.


Indeed, if anything, those early-state polls speak to the possibility that Trump’s position in the 2024 primaries might be worse than national polls suggest. That’s because Republicans in the states that matter more also appear more eager to turn the page.

As things stand, Trump generally leads nationally by double digits in a crowded field, while DeSantis is very competitive, and in some cases has led, if you distill the race down to just the two of them. (Polls vary in whom they include in that crowded field, but they generally include former vice president Mike Pence and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, among others.)

The 2024 primary calendar is in some flux, but the early states on the GOP side appear steady for now, including Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

We don’t have high-quality, nonpartisan polling in Iowa yet. But a pair of polls there from GOP super PACs have shown Trump and DeSantis virtually tied in a crowded field, and with DeSantis leading Trump by 11 percentage points in a head-to-head matchup. The latter poll, importantly, is from the Trump-critical Club for Growth. But it showed him moving from up 15 percentage points in August to down by double digits in November.

In New Hampshire, the same two polls showed very similar results. But we also have a more recent survey from the University of New Hampshire, which showed DeSantis ahead by 12 percentage points even in a crowded field. We haven’t seen that in virtually any other such poll, national or otherwise.

Its findings showed a similar trajectory to the Iowa poll above: Trump went from up 25 in late 2021 to down double digits. Even worse for Trump: Less than a majority (46 percent) said he should even run again and had a favorable opinion of him (47 percent). And DeSantis was the first or second choice for many more voters (more than 70 percent) than Trump (less than 45 percent).

Quality polling in South Carolina is sparse, and results have generally resembled national polling. But surveys have shown both DeSantis and Haley running within single digits in hypothetical two-candidate matchups against Trump. And a poll released last week had DeSantis leading Trump by 19 percentage points in a head-to-head matchup.


There’s not much polling to speak of in Nevada, either, but the polls are no better for Trump in other states that either could go early in the process or are slated for Super Tuesday:

  • In Michigan, where Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) just signed a bill moving the primary up to February 2024, a recent poll showed primary voters prefer “someone else” to Trump, 47-35. (Meanwhile, one-fourth of state House Republicans delivered a letter to DeSantis calling for him to run.)
  • In Alabama, DeSantis led Trump by 19 percentage points head-to-head in a survey by well-regarded GOP pollster Public Opinion Strategies on behalf of a charter school group.
  • In Tennessee, a Vanderbilt University poll showed DeSantis up 13, head to head.
  • In Texas, the state GOP released a poll showing DeSantis up 11, in a crowded field.

This polling is very limited, and the race has only just begun. But for Trump, the states that will kick off the process of picking the 2024 GOP nominee look like they could be tougher nuts to crack than the rest of the country. It could also be that voters in states like Iowa and New Hampshire are a little more tuned in to the decision that awaits them, and they’re a little ahead of the curve.

Whatever the case, this early data is far from reassuring for Trump. In fact, it’s pretty troublesome, which is probably why he’s pretending the opposite is true.

Source: Washington Post

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