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What the Polls Say About the State of the GOP Primary
Digging into the most recent batch of polls about the race for the Republican nomination
Media and polling organizations have been bombarding us with conflicting polls in recent weeks about the GOP primary, the economy, and President Biden’s standing. As we all know too well, polls are flawed instruments on their best days. Despite their mixed record of success in recent elections, they remain incredibly important to our political process. If we avoid reacting to each individual poll and pay attention to the larger trends, we can glean valuable information about the trends shaping the election. There is also a self-perpetuating nature to political polling. Movements in the polls can shift the tone of political coverage which can then affect future polls. A candidate improving in the polls — even slightly — will be treated as a rising star. One who drops a few points immediately becomes an also-ran.
We will spend the next 15 months on a disorienting, stomach-churning rollercoaster ride. Here are some quick thoughts on what it all means right now.
State of the GOP Race - Trump’s to Lose
While it is still relatively early, the 2024 Republican primary parallels the 2016 primary. Donald Trump is in a dominant position because the coalition of voters willing to support someone other than Trump is split up among a large field of candidates.
Last week, a University of New Hampshire poll showed Trump maintaining a significant lead over his rivals in the New Hampshire primary.
Thirteen points is far from an insurmountable lead, but the trend speaks to how the large field benefits Trump. The former president is down five points since a January poll, but those five points were dispersed among five different candidates.
This dynamic is also present in two new Fox Business polls of Iowa and South Carolina. In Iowa, Trump leads DeSantis 46-16. Tim Scott is the only Republican to reach double figures with 11%. In South Carolina, it’s Trump 48%, Nikki Haley 14%, DeSantis 13% and Scott 10%.
Why Trump Remains the Dominant Frontrunner
There is one finding in this Fox Business poll that explains the entire race. More than nine in ten Republican voters say that a candidate’s ability to beat Biden is an extremely or very important factor in their vote. This should be a problem for Donald Trump, who lost to Biden less than three years ago, is scheduled to start a criminal trial for violations of the Espionage Act right as the General Election kicks off, and is awaiting a criminal indictment for trying to overturn the election. Trump is the definition of a flawed candidate, but that’s not how Republican voters see him — 51% think he is the candidate most likely to beat Biden.
With these polls, you can see a path to Trump losing the primary but it would require essentially a two-person race where the entire anti-Trump coalition rallies behind one candidate.
It’s not all good news for Trump. A Pew Research poll shows that the onslaught of bad legal news and escalating volume of criticism from his rivals may be taking a toll. In that poll, Trump‘s favorability among Republicans is down nine points since last summer.
Trump is considered the overwhelming favorite to win the Republican nomination. Still, it is early and there are a lot of shoes to drop in the coming months.