Nov. 8, 2022, was one of the worst days of former president Donald Trump’s political career. Not only did his handpicked candidates apparently cost the GOP winnable races — and possibly the Senate majority — there was also, on the opposite side of the coin, a significant GOP success: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) resounding 19-point victory in what had been up until recently a swing state.
Suddenly, Republicans had yet more reason to doubt the electoral viability of Trump and Trumpism. And just as suddenly, they were practically slapped across the face with a readily available 2024 alternative.
Polls of the 2024 race since then have been piecemeal and mostly focused on the GOP primary, showing DeSantis eroding and perhaps erasing Trump’s status as the presumptive favorite. (We’ve had DeSantis ahead of Trump in our 2024 GOP nomination rankings for a while now.) But the few that have compared Trump and DeSantis in general election matchups appear to confirm the difference in viability.
Most recently came a survey from a GOP pollster for the Club for Growth. It shows Trump trailing President Biden by eight points in a 2024 rematch, but DeSantis with a three-point lead (which is inside the margin of error) — which amounts to a gap of 11 points between their respective margins.
That group has turned away from Trump in recent months and obviously prefers DeSantis. But other, nonpartisan polls bear the gap out too.
A USA Today poll from December showed virtually the same gap, with Trump down seven points but DeSantis up four. A Yahoo News/YouGov poll last month showed a smaller difference, but a difference nonetheless: Trump trailed Biden by four, while DeSantis was tied with him.
Then there’s a Marquette University poll from shortly after the 2022 midterms. It showed Trump trailing Biden by 10, but DeSantis tied.
That poll in particular seems to show the shift at play. It tested both matchups repeatedly over the course of 2022. And there was little difference throughout the year — until after the election, when the gap yawned.
That 10-point deficit for Trump against Biden is on the high end of his 2024 polls, and Marquette is a worse poll for both Republicans than most others. But the key is the difference in their performances. And it’s similar across multiple different polls now.
So why the difference? A couple of key groups stand out: women and independent voters.
The Club for Growth poll shows a 20-point gap on the margins when it comes to independents (i.e. DeSantis plus-11, Trump minus-9), while YouGov shows a 12-point gap, and the USA Today poll shows a 22-point gap. There is little difference between the two candidates in the Marquette poll, which didn’t push hard for independents to choose one of them. (Its survey question allowed respondents to choose “someone else.”)
As for women, the gap is 11 points in DeSantis’s favor in the Marquette poll, nine in the Club for Growth poll, seven in the USA Today poll and two in the YouGov poll.
It is, of course, very early days. DeSantis is an unknown quantity to many Americans and isn’t even in the race, as Trump is — at least nominally. Much can change as national voters get to know the alternative, and there’s no guarantee that they will embrace DeSantis as much as Florida has. Florida is certainly its own political state, as the results of the 2022 election showed. (Republicans did well there and in states like New York and Ohio, while the verdict elsewhere was mixed, at best.)
But if you’re on DeSantis’s team and you’re looking at the race ahead, you can see the case for his candidacy come into focus in these surveys.
And if you’re the GOP more broadly, you’re seeing the opportunity to turn (and perhaps the necessity of turning) the page on Trump, because it’s become even clearer he could be a liability in yet another election. Previous polls have shown Republicans increasingly think they’d be better off with a hypothetical “someone else” in 2024, and these new polls suggest they’re right.