Efrain Hidalgo's journey Dream Chaser details
Iowa Poll

Is Trump wrong to skip the presidential debates? What GOP caucusgoers told our Iowa Poll

A new Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows 57% of likely Republican caucusgoers don't care whether Donald Trump participates in a debate before the Jan. 15 caucus.

Des Moines Register

© Copyright 2023, Des Moines Register and Tribune Co.

During a televised debate in late September, Donald Trump’s Republican opponents criticized the former president for skipping the forum.

“Donald Trump is missing in action. He should be on this stage tonight,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said, arguing

But most likely Republican caucusgoers disagree.

According to a new Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom Iowa Poll, 57% say it does not matter whether Trump participates in a debate before the Jan. 15 caucus.

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


Forty-two percent say they think Trump should participate in at least one debate before caucus night. One percent aren’t sure.

The poll of 404 likely Republican caucusgoers, conducted Oct. 22-26, by Selzer & Co., has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

Trump supporters less likely to want Trump on the debate stage

Poll respondents who name Trump as their first choice are less likely than those who support other candidates to think the former president should take the debate stage.

Eighty-one percent of Trump supporters say it doesn’t matter if he debates before Caucus Day.

Among likely caucusgoers who favor a different candidate, 60% say Trump should debate, and 39% say it doesn’t matter.

Poll respondent Renee Hansen, a retired teacher living in Tipton who plans to support Trump on Caucus Day, said she doesn’t need a debate to know where Trump stands.

Supporters of former President Donald Trump turn out Sunday, October 29, 2023 at the Orpheum Theatre in Sioux City, Iowa, for his campaign stop.

“He does enough televised rallies and talks about his agenda and how he wants things to go, what needs to happen,” Hansen said in a follow-up interview with the Des Moines Register. “He gets his point across quite well through that.”

Hansen, 70, saw Trump in person in July at a Fox News town hall in Cedar Rapids. “I liked what he did when he was in office,” Hansen said. “I felt safe, our economy was in good shape. He was working for the people.”

But poll respondent Bill Hoekstra of Cedar Rapids said Republican candidates should be willing to debate — including Trump.

“It's important for him to be able to talk about his record,” said Hoekstra, 71. “Because he can sit on the sidelines and poke fun at everybody else, but until you're in the fray, that's not fair.”

Hoekstra plans to support former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in January, citing her gubernatorial experience.

Trump flouts RNC loyalty pledge, says he won’t participate in any debates

The Republican National Committee set out strict rules for their primary debates: For each televised event, candidates needed to reach a certain number of donors and meet a polling threshold nationally and in early states like Iowa.

Candidates were also required to sign a pledge stating they would support the Republican nominee and would not launch a third-party campaign against the person.

Trump, who entered the race as a popular quasi-incumbent, would have easily met the polling and donor benchmarks. But he refused in August to sign the RNC’s loyalty pledge.

“Why would I sign it?” . “I can name three or four people that I wouldn’t support for president. So right there, there’s a problem.”

Trump skipped the first GOP debate in August, instead posting a . He wasn’t on the stage in September either, as .

Trump’s campaign called on the RNC in October and “refocus its manpower” on defeating incumbent President Joe Biden. Trump said he will not participate in any debates.

Regardless, the next GOP primary debate will take place in Miami on Nov. 8. The escalating polling and donor requirements have winnowed the field, and only four candidates have qualified so far: DeSantis, Haley, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Katie Akin is a politics reporter for the Register. Reach her atkakin@registermedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at.

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.

Featured Weekly Ad