Former president Donald Trump launched his campaign to return to the White House in 2024 on Nov. 15, just a week after costing his party for, arguably, the third election in a row.
We’ve seen relatively little polling of the 2024 campaign since then. But what we have seen suggests Republican-leaning voters are souring on Trump 2024 and increasingly prefer an alternative who they see as more electable — particularly Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The head-to-head is as competitive as it has ever been. An Economist/YouGov poll last week showed Trump at 36 percent and DeSantis at 30 percent in a crowded field.
But when you distill the race to two candidates, the verdict is much less favorable for Trump. Another Economist/YouGov poll from two weeks earlier showed DeSantis up 36 percent to 29 percent in that scenario. A Quinnipiac University poll released in late November showed each at 44 percent among Republicans. And a poll from Marquette University law school actually showed DeSantis with a 20-point lead when you include GOP-leaning independents, 60 percent to 40 percent.
Even if that last poll isn’t quite on the mark, this is a vast departure from other data we’ve seen over the past two years. While polls in key primary states had shown DeSantis pulling into contention with Trump — and even leading in some cases — national polls had been another matter.
In fact, according to FiveThirtyEight’s compilation of polls, the first quality national poll this year to show Trump trailing DeSantis came Nov. 9-11 — the three days after the 2022 election. Now we have three more (not including partisan polling from the Club for Growth and the Texas GOP).
If you dig a little deeper into these polls, you begin to see the reasons for the shift. Trump’s image is on the low end of the range of where it’s traditionally been among Republicans — but the bigger reason for this turn in the polling seems to be pragmatism and a desire for a someone who can win.
Another pollster to weigh in after the election is Marist College. It asked Republican-leaning voters who has a better shot of winning in 2024: Trump or a hypothetical “someone else.” In October 2021, Trump led on that measure 50-35. Today, “someone else” leads 54-35.
We’ve also seen that “someone else” emerge. DeSantis, fresh off a massive reelection win in a former swing state, keeps polling better than Trump in a 2024 general election matchup with President Biden.
But it’s not just that Republicans finally see a plausible alternative and worry about Trump’s prospects; there are signs that they have soured a bit on what he has wrought for the party. Before the 2022 election, the Quinnipiac poll showed Republicans said Trump has had “mainly a positive” impact on the party by a 76-point margin, 85-9. Today, it’s a much smaller 46-point margin: 70-24.
A strong majority of Republicans still see Trump as someone they like and as good for the party on balance. But that above decline is difficult to separate from the 2022 election results. There is plenty of goodwill remaining for Trump, but that doesn’t mean voters feel compelled to give him a third shot at the presidency or prefer him to someone with less baggage who still speaks to their priorities — in a way, it bears noting, that virtually no other candidate did in 2016.
There’s a long way to go before the 2024 primaries begin. But we’ve had DeSantis as the favorite for the 2024 GOP nomination since August. And the trends that were evident back then seem to have accelerated thanks to another bad election for Trump and his gobsmacking decision to immediately press forward despite it.
Perhaps all of this changes once Trump truly hits the campaign trail or if DeSantis doesn’t run. But it’s a wholly inauspicious launch for Trump, devoid of anything resembling an announcement bump — and indeed, quite the opposite.