An Early Look at the 2024 Race for the Republican Presidential Nomination

Elections & Politics Policy Brief #77 | By: Ian Milden | May 16, 2023
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The race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination has started to develop. This brief will examine where the race stands at this point by looking for insights from early polling data. The brief will also discuss some of the limitations of our knowledge and uses of early polling data.



The race for the Republican Presidential nomination has started to develop. Former President Donald Trump filed to run in November of last year. Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, radio host Larry Elder, and biotech executive Vivek Ramaswamy have all launched campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina has formed an exploratory committee, and he appears likely to go forward with a campaign.

Several other Republicans have expressed interest in running, and they could join the race in the coming weeks and months. These Republicans include former Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu. These potential candidates have to make a final decision soon to build effective campaign organizations that can compete in the early primaries.


Some Notes on Polls

There are a handful of polls that can provide some insight on the current state of the race, though there are some caveats that I should mention before looking at the data. 

First, polls are not predictive. They are meant to capture the thoughts and opinions of a target audience (in this case, likely Republican primary voters) at a specific point in time. Those thoughts and opinions can change over time, so examining trends over time tends to provide the most insight. Examining trends over time is difficult to do early in a campaign.

Second, if you have read my previous work incorporating polling data (which I often did for this website when looking at Senate races in the 2022 mid-terms), you would know that I do not value the topline (or horse race) numbers very much. Instead, I am more concerned with the underlying demographic trends that are used to come up with the topline numbers. The underlying demographic trends in polling data tend to be more consistent from pollster to pollster even as the topline numbers shift since different pollsters will have different methods and formulas for figuring out what they think election day turnout will look like.

Third, most polls at this point are national polls, which is not how the primary is decided. Individual states vote on different days. Some candidates may post better numbers in specific states, such as a candidate’s home state. This won’t be reflected in a national poll, but some of the underlying data from the national poll may indicate where a candidate has the best chance of competing since most of the underlying trends repeat themselves at the state level. For example, candidates who struggle with college-educated voters are likely to perform worse in states with a greater percentage of college educated voters.

Fourth, since candidates are still able to launch campaigns, some polls may not incorporate candidates who have not launched a campaign. Other polls will incorporate candidates who have decided not to run for President in this election cycle. The entrances and exits of candidates from the race can change the minds of respondents, and updated polling data would be needed to reflect those changes.


What the Data Tells Us

The early data from every poll I have been able to find paints one clear picture: The race for the 2024 Republican nomination is currently Trump’s race to lose. He consistently leads in the polls by sizable margins, and he does so with substantial support from most of the underlying demographic trends. If you are interested in looking at some of those trends for yourself, this spreadsheet has some of the underlying demographic trends from the ABC News and Washington Post poll conducted at the end of April and beginning of May.

There are a few notable areas of weakness for Trump. For example, he gets substantially less support from college graduates, women, and voters in more urbanized areas when compared with voters who did not graduate from college, men, and rural voters. Trump also performs better among voters who identify as more conservative rather than moderates or independents. These trends are not going to be problematic for Trump in a Republican Primary because the Republican party’s base voters are increasingly from rural areas, lack college degrees, and are self-identified conservatives. 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been the closest competitor to Trump in most polls, but his support has been declining in recent surveys. His support skews towards college-educated voters, women, and voters in more urbanized areas. DeSantis likely got support from these voters due to his prominence in conservative media as a Trump alternative. These voters may now be looking for an alternative to DeSantis due to his abrasive personality and his political fights with entities like Disney. Many of these voters are not seeking someone with a personality and temperament that is similar to Trump’s. I would not be surprised if his support continues to decline among these voters if he launches a campaign and does not make substantial changes to appeal to these voters. 

If someone is going to beat Trump in the primary, they are going to have to figure out how to chip away at the solid support he has right now. The recent indictment in New York State does not appear to have damaged Trump’s standing within the Republican party, at least according to Reuters’ polling data from last month. Trump’s support seems to be durable, as his support is coming from the same demographics who supported his two previous campaigns. The other candidates for the Republican nomination need to adjust their campaign and communication strategy to adapt to this reality since hoping that Trump will be forced out of the race is an exercise in wishful thinking


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