Former President Donald Trump has expanded his lead over his GOP rivals with five weeks until the first Republican presidential nominating contest, now earning 51% first-choice support from likely Iowa caucusgoers, according to the latest NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll.
Trump’s lead — the largest recorded so close to a competitive Republican caucus in this Iowa poll’s history — is fueled by majorities of evangelical and first-time likely caucusgoers, as well as by nearly three-quarters of Republicans who believe Trump can defeat President Joe Biden next year despite the legal challenges the former president faces.
What’s more, the poll finds the former president enjoying more enthusiasm and commitment from his supporters than his rivals do ahead of the Jan. 15 contest in Iowa.
“With all the other candidates, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what they say, it doesn’t matter what they do. Because automatically, my vote is going to Trump no matter what,” said poll respondent Timothy Blackerby, 67, of Missouri Valley, Iowa.
“They can promise me a million dollars,” Blackerby added. “I tell them to keep it. And I would still vote for Trump.”
J. Ann Selzer, the Iowa pollster who has been conducting this survey over the last three decades, said “the field may have shrunk, but it may have made Donald Trump even stronger. I would call his lead commanding at this point.”
Still, the poll shows a sizable portion of caucusgoers who remain open to considering both Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, despite Trump’s large lead.
And Selzer cautions how unpredictable the Iowa caucuses can be, including how former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum came out of nowhere to win this GOP contest in 2012.
“Everything that could happen has happened in this contest,” said Selzer.
According to the poll — which was conducted after a burst of campaign activity in Iowa and more GOP presidential candidates suspending their campaigns — Trump gets first-choice support from 51% of likely Republican caucusgoers, while DeSantis gets 19% and Haley gets 16%. (The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.)
They’re followed by entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy at 5% and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at 4%.
Trump’s 32-point lead over his nearest competition is an increase from October’s NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll, when Trump was ahead of both DeSantis and Haley by 27 points: Trump 43%, DeSantis 16%, Haley 16%.
Trump gets first-choice support from majorities of evangelical Christians (51% of them backed him), self-identified Republicans (59%), first-time caucusgoers (63%) and white men without college degrees (66%).
His weakest groups are among likely GOP caucusgoers who hold college degrees (that group gave him 39% support), independents (36%) and suburban residents (36%), but the former president still leads his rivals among those groups — albeit by narrower margins.
The Iowa winner has not always gone on to win the GOP presidential nomination. But besides being the first state to vote, it has taken on additional importance this year: Trump’s rivals have seen the state as a key opportunity to prevent him from gaining momentum and running away with the rest of the 2024 primary.
Plenty of caucusgoers are still considering DeSantis and Haley
Despite Trump’s 30-point-plus advantage over his rivals, sizable portions of likely caucusgoers say they are still considering DeSantis and Haley ahead of the Iowa caucuses.
Thirty percent pick DeSantis as their second choice, and an additional 18% say they’re actively considering the Florida governor.
“I like the fact that he is a governor. … I do like the fact that he was in the military. … I like the fact that he is decisive with decision-making,” said poll respondent Chris Myszewski, 53, of Waukee, Iowa, who said he’s caucusing for DeSantis.
And 17% select Haley as their second choice, with another 19% saying they’re actively considering her.
“I just like her mix of experience,” said Michael Wright, 50, of Grimes, Iowa, who named Haley as his first choice. “She has the executive experience from being the governor of South Carolina and she has foreign policy experience at the U.N.”
NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll: Frequently asked questions
Who conducts the NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll of Iowa?
Iowa-based pollster J. Ann Selzer and her firm, Selzer & Co., conduct the poll. Selzer has been polling the Hawkeye State and its presidential caucuses over the last three decades.
How is the poll conducted?
The polling firm employs a call center, where live interviewers speak by cell phone and telephone withmore than 3,000 randomly selected voters from the Iowa secretary of state’s voter registration list. The survey is based on the 502 registered voters who say they will definitely or probably attend the 2024 Republican caucuses.
How does interviewing 502 likely GOP caucusgoers produce a representative sample?
One of the common questions that critics of polls ask is, “I wasn’t interviewed, so why should this poll matter?” This poll produces a representative sample by randomly selecting records from the full voter registration list to allow everyone in the population an equal chance of being chosen. Using that sample, interviewers contact more than 3,000 respondents. Selzer & Company then applies minimal adjustments to the data by age, sex and congressional district to reflect their proportions in the full voter registration list. After that, the pollsters focus the analysis on the respondents who are likely to participate in the Jan. 15, 2024 Iowa Republican caucuses.
Who comes up with the questions?
Editors and reporters from NBC News and the Des Moines Register — along with Selzer — work to formulate the questions to try to capture the news and current events. All parties work together to ensure the language and placement of the questions are as neutral as possible.
Half of caucusgoers say their minds are already made up
Nearly half of likely Republican caucusgoers — 49% — say their minds are already made up, which is an increase from 41% who said this in October.
That compares with 46% who say they can still be persuaded to change their minds.
In the December 2015 Iowa Poll, at the same approximate point before the last competitive Iowa GOP caucuses, just 33% of likely caucusgoers said their minds were made up, compared to 66% who said they could still be persuaded.
Loyalty among Trump supporters is driving the difference. As in the past NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom polls of Iowa in 2023, an overwhelming share of Trump’s supporters — 70% — say their minds are already made up.
By contrast, just 30% of DeSantis’ supporters and only 34% of Haley’s say their minds are made up.
Trump also has the more enthusiastic supporters, with 45% of Trump’s backers saying they’re “extremely enthusiastic” for their first-choice candidate, versus 16% who say that about DeSantis and 21% who say that about Haley.
Nearly three-quarters of Republicans believe Trump can defeat Biden despite legal challenges
Finally, the poll finds a whopping 73% of likely caucusgoers believing Trump can win a general election against President Joe Biden despite the legal challenges Trump is facing — up from 65% who said this in October.
By comparison, just 24% think that Trump’s legal challenges make it nearly impossible for Trump to beat Biden, which is down from 32% who said this two months ago.
“I think a ham sandwich could probably win a general election against Joe Biden. And it’s all Biden’s fault,” said poll respondent Aaron Mann, 30, of Fort Madison, Iowa, who says he’s caucusing for Trump.
The NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll was conducted Dec. 2-7 of 502 likely Republican caucusgoers, and it has an overall margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
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