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Iowa Poll

Donald Trump builds on big lead as Nikki Haley pulls even with Ron DeSantis in Iowa Poll

A Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows 43% of likely Republican caucusgoers pick Trump as their first choice for president, with DeSantis and Haley tied for second at 16%

Des Moines Register

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Support for Nikki Haley has swelled in Iowa: The former United Nations ambassador has pulled even with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in what has become a heated battle for second place in the first-in-the-nation caucus state.

But former President Donald Trump still dominates the race. He’s ahead by 27 percentage points — a lead that has expanded slightly despite his mounting legal problems.

A new Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows 43% of likely Republican caucusgoers choose Trump as their first choice for president, up from 42% in an August Iowa Poll.

DeSantis and Haley are now tied for second place with 16%.

Prep for the polls: See who is running for president and compare where they stand on key issues in our Voter Guide

That’s a drop of 3 percentage points for DeSantis, who was the first choice of 19% of caucusgoers in August. And it’s a 10-point jump for Haley, who was at 6%.

“You just have (Haley) rising. You have DeSantis kind of holding on for second place,” said pollster J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co., which conducted the Iowa Poll. “But both of them are on ground that you could only describe as shaky compared to the solid ground that Donald Trump stands on.

“If anything, he’s showing improvement.”

Recently, Haley and DeSantis have spent more time battling with each other than with Trump, particularly over their approach to the Israel-Hamas war. Each has targeted the other in television ads and on the campaign trail.

And both candidates have recently announced they would increase their Iowa presence as the race to Caucus Day on Jan. 15 enters its final months.

Aaron Rush, a 39-year-old poll respondent from Waterloo, lists DeSantis as his top choice for president but is weighing supporting Haley. He said he’s been watching presidential polls and debates to help him decide between the two.

More than anything, he says, he wants to find a candidate who looks like they can beat Trump. He likes U.S. Sen. Tim Scott but doesn’t include him in his top two because of the senator’s poorer showing in other polls.

"The ability to beat Trump right now is more important than any sort of policy differences you're going to get between the rest of the field,” Rush said.

The remaining candidate pool is largely stagnant.

Scott is at 7%, down from 9%; former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is at 4%, down from 5%; entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy held steady at 4%; North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum rose from 2% to 3%; and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson rose from 0% to 1%.

Texas pastor Ryan Binkley is at 0%, failing to gain any support after also polling at 0% in the August Iowa Poll.

Former Vice President Mike Pence dropped out of the race Saturday, saying “this is not my time.” The new Iowa Poll results backed that up, with only 2% of likely Republican caucusgoers naming him their first choice. That was down from 6% in the August Iowa Poll.

Pence’s first-choice votes were redistributed to poll respondents’ second-choice candidates in the poll.

Overall, likely Republican caucusgoers say their first choice for president is more about issues (63%) than leadership style (29%) as they wade through the still-crowded field.

The poll of 404 likely Republican caucusgoers was conducted Oct. 22-26 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

Nikki Haley rises with independents and suburbanites

Haley has doubled her support with independents, which has helped propel her into the second-place tie, Selzer said.

In August, Trump and DeSantis were nearly evenly split among independent caucusgoers, with 21% supporting Trump as their first choice and 19% supporting DeSantis.

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks', R-Iowa, Triple MMM Tailgate event in Iowa City, Iowa on Friday, Oct. 20, 2023. The event featured remarks from several candidates for the Republican Party's nomination for president.

But Trump now leads DeSantis with independents 33% to 12%.

And Haley has also overtaken the Florida governor with independents: 22% list her as their first choice for president — up from 10% in August.

“This is a group that is fickle and on the small side,” Selzer said. But it could be an important group to watch as the race progresses, she said.

Independents make up 21% of the poll’s respondents.

Kelly Hester, a poll participant who identifies as an independent, said Haley is her top choice for president.

“The Republicans have ticked me off as of lately with their stance on gay rights, transgender and especially abortion rights,” she said. “But I definitely lean Republican fiscally.”

She thinks Trump has “ticked off too many people” and won’t be able to defeat Democrat Joe Biden.

Hester said she saw Haley during the debates and appreciated her positions on foreign policy, abortion and border security, and she thinks Haley has a better shot at winning than Trump.

“I would like to hear her (in person), because I'm not set in stone,” Hester, a Solon resident, said. “But so far, she's definitely been my favorite.”

One possible advantage for Haley, Selzer said, is that she gets support across a much broader demographic range than DeSantis.

In addition to her strong showing with independents, Haley leads both Trump and DeSantis with suburban poll respondents: 32% say Haley is their first pick for president. DeSantis is at 29%, and Trump is at 24%.

Haley also leads DeSantis among those with a college degree, 22%-16%; among men 65 or older, 23%-17%; white women with a college degree, 24%-15%; and women 44 or younger, 22%-13%.

DeSantis leads Haley among men under the age of 45, 22%-13%.

“It's not just one particular group where she's really dug in,” Selzer said. “She's digging in across demographics.”

So how much crossover is there between supporters for Trump, DeSantis and Haley?

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks', R-Iowa, Triple MMM Tailgate event in Iowa City, Iowa on Friday, Oct. 20, 2023. The event featured remarks from several candidates for the Republican Party's nomination for President. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette via AP)

Of those who name DeSantis as their first choice for president, 27% name Haley as their second choice. But 41% say their second choice is Trump.

For Haley, 34% of her first-choice supporters pick DeSantis as their second choice for president, 19% select Scott and 14% choose Burgum. Just 12% say Trump is their second-choice candidate.

“To my mind, she's done the best job of differentiating that she is the non-Trump candidate, to the extent that they don't see him as even a second choice,” Selzer said.

Of those who name Trump as their first choice for president, 41% say DeSantis is their second choice. Haley is at 16% and Ramaswamy is at 15%.

Trump supporters are more enthusiastic, locked in than Haley or DeSantis supporters

In addition to leading overall, Trump performs better than his opponents across nearly every demographic the poll tested, including among first-time caucusgoers.

Trump has maintained his lead there, with 49% of first-time caucusgoers saying he is their first choice. DeSantis is at 15%, and Haley is at 14%.

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a commit to caucus rally, Monday, Oct. 16, 2023, in Adel, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Those who name Trump as their first choice are also more enthusiastic about their pick, the poll shows.

Overall, 30% of likely caucusgoers say they are extremely enthusiastic about their first choice for president.

Among Trump voters, it’s 47% — about twice what it is among DeSantis voters (25%).

Among Haley voters, it is even lower, at 19%.

That may be a sign that although Haley is the only candidate seeing substantial upward momentum in this poll, Selzer said, the ground underneath her could be “a little shaky.”

Trump’s support is also more firmly locked in.

Overall, 54% percent of likely Republican caucusgoers have a first choice for president and say they could still be persuaded to support a different candidate. Fewer, 41%, say their minds are made up.

But that number is much higher among Trump supporters, with 63% percent saying their minds are made up. A smaller share, 37%, say they could still be persuaded to pick another candidate.

“This solid ground is what makes people want to say he's invincible,” Selzer said of Trump.

Poll respondent Dennis Canarsky, 73, said that as long as Trump is in the race, he plans to support him.

“If Trump’s not running, I would have to look to see what (the other candidates) stand for,” Canarsky, a Republican, said. “Otherwise, it’s Trump all the way. He’s my hero. Him and Jesus are my heroes.”

Support for DeSantis and Haley is less solid.

Thirty percent of DeSantis’ supporters say their minds are made up, while 70% could still be persuaded.

And for Haley, even fewer, 26%, say their minds are firmly made up. The rest, 74%, say they could still be persuaded.

Is it inevitable that Donald Trump will win the Iowa Caucuses?

Trump leads by a commanding margin, but Iowa caucusgoers have not shut the door on alternatives, the Iowa Poll suggests.

Iowa caucusgoers are known for considering many candidates before slowly zeroing in on one person by Caucus Day.

The poll shows that just 4% of respondents have narrowed the list of candidates they are considering to just one. Instead, 22% are considering two candidates and 72% are considering three or more candidates.

Overall, 67% of likely Republican caucusgoers say they are considering caucusing for Trump, even if he is not their first choice.

That 67% includes the 43% who say he is their first choice, 12% who say he is their second choice and 12% who say they are actively considering him.

Trump’s total is matched by the 67% who say they are considering caucusing for DeSantis.

DeSantis’ universe of support includes the 16% who say he is their first choice, 27% who say he is their second choice and 25% who say they are actively considering him.

Although Haley is tied with DeSantis overall, the poll shows she has a smaller universe of people considering her, at 54% (although that’s up from the 40% who were considering her in August).

Her footprint includes the 16% who say she is their first choice, 17% who say she is their second choice and 22% who say they are actively considering her.

Scott follows with 49% who say they are actively considering him (down from 53%). That includes the 7% who name him as their first choice, 10% who name him as their second choice and 32% who are considering him.

"He's on the cusp of being in the top tier,” Selzer said. “Most of that is people saying that they're actively considering him. … But that's not where you want (your support) to be happening, unless you've got a very specific strategy that is designed to identify people who are on the edge and sort of make them — force them — to take a different look. Because the look they're getting now isn't sufficient to turn into first- or second-choice votes.”

Trailing the polling leaders are Ramaswamy (32%, down from 34%), Burgum (19%, down from 23%) and Christie (16%, down from 21%).

Hutchinson and Binkley are in the single digits, with footprints of 9% and 6% respectively.

“These are campaigns that don't appear to be getting traction,” Selzer said.

Ron DeSantis viewed favorably by highest percentage of Iowa GOP caucusgoers

Although Scott had the highest net favorability rating in August, DeSantis now holds that title.

Today, DeSantis is viewed favorably by 69%, up from 66% in August. And he is viewed unfavorably by 26%, down from 29%. Another 5% aren’t sure.

“He’s likeable enough — with higher favorables than Trump,” Selzer said. “It’s just that many more want Trump as their first choice.”

Trump is viewed favorably by 66% — a new high, after getting 65% in August. And he is viewed unfavorably by 32%, compared with 33% in August. Just 1% are not sure.

Scott also maintains high favorable ratings, with 61% saying they view him favorably, compared with 59% in August. Another 22% view him unfavorably, up from 17%. Another 17% are not sure.

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., speaks during a meet and greet, Monday, Sept. 18, 2023, in Fort Dodge, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

In addition to climbing to tie for second place with DeSantis, Haley’s favorability ratings have also improved, though she remains lower than DeSantis, Trump and Scott.

Now, she is viewed favorably by 59% of likely Republican caucusgoers, up from 53% in August. She is viewed unfavorably by 29%, up slightly from 26% in August. The percentage of those who are not sure about Haley has shrunk from 21% to 13% as she becomes better known.

Vivek Ramaswamy viewed more unfavorably in Iowa

Three candidates are underwater with their favorability rating, viewed unfavorably by more likely caucusgoers than favorably: Binkley, Christie and Hutchinson.

Ramaswamy has become better known since August, when 41% of likely Republican caucusgoers didn’t know enough about him to say whether they had a favorable or unfavorable view of him.

That is down to 20% now following two national debates where Ramaswamy claimed the spotlight — but his negatives almost doubled during that same time.

GOP Presidential Candidate Vivek Ramaswamy speaks in Ottumwa on Sat. Oct. 21, 2023.

The percentage of those who view him unfavorably has risen from 20% to 37%, while the percentage of those who view him favorably has increased from 38% to 43%.

Christie remains the candidate with the highest unfavorable rating. The former New Jersey governor has not campaigned in Iowa this cycle, but he has been featured in both debates aggressively attacking Trump.

Christie is viewed favorably by 20% of poll respondents, down from 28% in August. And he is viewed unfavorably by 69%, up from 60%.

Des Moines Register reporter Samantha Hernandez contributed to this report.

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

About the Iowa Poll

The Iowa Poll, conducted Oct. 22-26, 2023, for The Des Moines Register, NBC News and Mediacom by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, is based on telephone interviews with 404 registered voters in Iowa who say they will definitely or probably attend the 2024 Republican caucuses.

Interviewers with Quantel Research contacted 3,028 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 404 voters likely to attend the 2024 Iowa Republican caucuses have a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 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 4.9 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.

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