DeSantis leads Trump for 2024 GOP nod, but not if Haley and others split the vote

Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis greets supporters.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at the Jewish Republican Coalition’s annual leadership meeting in Las Vegas on Nov. 19, 2022. (Wade Vandervort/AFP via Getty Images)

A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows that in a head-to-head, more Republican voters would vote for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (45%) than former President Donald Trump (41%) if the party’s 2024 presidential election today ends the primaries were held

However, if even one more Republican candidate challenges Trump and DeSantis for the nomination, splitting the party’s “anti-Trump” vote, the former president would take the lead.

The poll of 1,585 U.S. adults, conducted Feb. 2-6, vividly illustrates the dilemma facing GOP officials who believe Trump’s renomination could mar the party’s chances in 2024: how to narrow the field enough to prevent the former president to outflank a divided opposition with less than 50% of the vote (just like he did in 2016)?

Even now — months before he’s expected to announce his candidacy — DeSantis already appears to be stronger than Trump. In addition to leading Trump in a hypothetical two-candidate GOP primary race, the Florida governor (44%) also outscores President Biden (43%) in a general election match.

By contrast, Trump currently trails Biden by 6 percentage points, 41% to 47%, among registered voters. That’s largely because he scores 3 worse points than DeSantis among Republicans and 9 worse points among independents.

The problem for DeSantis — and most Republican and Republican-leaning voters who say they’d prefer “someone else” other than Trump as a GOP nominee (40%) or still aren’t sure (14%) — is that the Floridian won’t have the former president to himself.

In fact, at least five other GOP candidates are reportedly recruiting in the early nominating states of Iowa and New Hampshire. And former South Carolina Governor and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley will officially launch her 2024 bid on Feb. 15.

Republican former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley greets an audience at a lecture.

Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley also appeared at the RJC’s annual leadership meeting in Las Vegas. (Wade Vandervort/AFP via Getty Images)

Informed of this news, registered voters who are Republicans and Slim Republicans approved (48%) rather than disapproved (22%) of Haley’s decision to run by a margin greater than 2 to 1. Yet nearly a third (30%) say not sure and few are ready to vote for her. While Haley’s support in a hypothetical nine-candidate field has risen significantly since January — from 1% to 5% — Trump would currently beat his 54% to 27% in a head-to-head primary contest.

And given that Haley is currently voting better than any non-Trump or non-DeSantis Republican on the 2024 longlist, former Vice President Mike Pence (4%), former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (2%) or former Governor Maryland’s Larry Hogan (1%) would hardly pose a greater one-on-one threat to Trump.

For now, at least, only DeSantis can replace Trump as GOP leader — and he can only do so if no one else is vying for the anti-Trump vote. In a hypothetical three-way meeting, Haley effectively spoilers, drawing 11% of Republicans and Slim Republicans, while DeSantis’ support drops by roughly the same amount (to 35%), leaving Trump with more votes than both (38% ).

Former President Donald Trump stands on a podium.

Former President Donald Trump at the New Hampshire Republican State Committee annual meeting January 28 in Salem, NH (Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

In a larger field, consisting of nine candidates, the results are almost identical, with Trump (37%) again losing far less support than DeSantis (36%) and narrowly retaining the lead.

Truth be told, the first GOP caucuses and primaries are still a year away. Some candidates will probably come and go before the first ballots are even cast. Someone not registering now could always take off.

However, it is already clear that anti-Trump Republicans will likely want the field to shrink as much as possible before voting begins, or risk pushing Trump into the nomination yet again by a mere plurality of votes.


The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,585 U.S. adults surveyed online February 2-6, 2023. The sample was weighted by gender, age, race, education, election turnout, 2020 and presidential ballot, party identification reference, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting goals are from the 2019 American Community Survey. The baseline party identification is the most recent respondent response given before March 15, 2022, and is weighted by the estimated distribution at that time (32% Democrat , 27% Republican). Respondents were selected by YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.8%.

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