Trump holds big lead in new Iowa poll, but DeSantis and Scott see paths to victory

Charlie Neibergall, Meg Kinnard | AP
  • Former President Donald Trump holds a double-digit lead over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in a major new poll of likely Republican caucusgoers in Iowa.
  • But the Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom poll also found that a majority of respondents were still undecided as to who they will support, leaving a door open for Trump's rivals.
  • The poll was released days before the first Republican primary debate and the same week Trump is required to surrender to authorities in Georgia, where he faces more than dozen felony counts.

Former President Donald Trump holds a double-digit lead over his closest rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in a major new poll of likely Republican caucusgoers in Iowa released Monday. The state will hold the first nominating contest of the 2024 GOP presidential primary race on Jan. 15.

Trump garnered the support of 42% of respondents, while DeSantis came in second with 19%. Trump's 23-point lead over DeSantis is the largest GOP caucus advantage recorded by the poll since the 2000 primary, when George W. Bush notched a 30-point advantage.

After Trump and DeSantis, no other candidate scored double digit support. Scott won 9%; former Vice President Mike Pence and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley both came in at 6%; former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was at 5%; and 4% back Vivek Ramaswamy, an entrepreneur and political newcomer.

But Trump's advantage is still not ironclad, according to the joint survey conducted by the Des Moines Register, NBC News and Mediacom. Fully 52% of respondents said they had not yet decided who they would support, while 40% said they were certain.

With about five months to go before the Iowa caucuses, that uncertainty could be key to giving candidates like DeSantis and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott an opening — especially as Trump's unprecedented criminal charges in four separate cases increasingly dominate his campaign's message.

When asked who their second choice would be, a 20% plurality picked DeSantis, followed by Scott at 15% and 12% for Ramaswamy. A further 29% of respondents said they were actively considering Haley — the same percentage who said they were actively considering Scott.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents also said they have a favorable view of Trump, a virtual tie with DeSantis.

The survey, conducted by Iowa pollster J. Ann Selzer, questioned 406 likely Republican caucusgoers from Aug. 13-17. It has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.

While Trump and DeSantis share a similar overall approval in the state — 63% for Trump and 61% for DeSantis — the Florida governor's support appears to be much shakier than the former president's.

Of the 40% of likely GOP caucusgoers who said they had made up their minds on who to support, two-thirds picked Trump, versus 31% for DeSantis.

Worse for the governor was the fact that while 52% of respondents said they might still decide to pick someone else, it was mostly DeSantis supporters who were uncertain, not supporters of other candidates.

DeSantis has pitched himself as the most electable candidate, and the most likely to defeat President Joe Biden, the incumbent Democrat, in a general election. But Iowa respondents said they cared much more about picking a candidate who mirrors their personal views on issues (65%) than one with the best chance to win a general election (29%).

The poll was carried out in the midst of Trump's fourth indictment, the second to allege he illegally conspired to overturn his loss to Biden in the 2020 election. Some other polls have found Trump expanding his lead after being criminally charged, as GOP voters largely consider the indictments politically motivated.

The survey results come just two days before the first Republican primary debate. Trump has said he will skip the debates, a move that robs his competitors of a rare chance to attack the frontrunner in a live setting.

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