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Trump maintains commanding lead in Iowa poll

Nikki Haley is tied with Ron DeSantis for second place in the NBC/Des Moines Register/Mediacom survey as Trump’s backers remain the most committed.
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Former President Donald Trump now leads his nearest Republican rivals by nearly 30 points in Iowa, with two-thirds of likely GOP caucusgoers dismissing the severity of his legal challenges, according to the second conducted by J. Ann Selzer.

The survey also finds former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley moving up to a tie for second place with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, both of whom remain popular with Iowa Republicans ahead of the Jan. 15 GOP caucuses.

Yet the poll shows Trump’s supporters are more enthusiastic and locked into their choice than Haley’s and DeSantis’ backers are, even as likely Republican caucusgoers are divided over whether Trump should remain the leader of the GOP.

Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event  in Adel, Iowa, on Oct. 16, 2023.
Donald Trump at campaign event in Adel, Iowa, on Oct. 16, 2023.Scott Olson / Getty Images

“My life was a lot better when Trump was in office. I felt safe; things were cheaper; he helped out the farmers and my parents. Things were better — plain and simple,” said poll respondent Kendall Pelzer, 53, of Bettendorf, Iowa, who says he’s caucusing for Trump.

Selzer, who has been conducting polls of Iowa over the last three decades, said: “This is a good poll for Donald Trump. For all the things that happened between the last poll and now, he’s still the dominant player in the field, and his standing has, in fact, improved from August.”

The NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll of Iowa was conducted Oct. 22 through Thursday amid another volatile period in the 2024 election cycle  as war rages in the Middle East, as Trump encounters additional challenges in the courtroom and as the GOP field prepares for its next presidential debate on Nov. 8.

According to the poll, 43% of likely Republican caucusgoers pick Trump as their first-choice candidate, while 16% choose DeSantis and another 16% select Haley.

They’re followed by Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina at 7%, with entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie tied at 4%.

(The poll was completed before former Vice President Mike Pence suspended his presidential campaign Saturday, and it reallocated the 2% support he received to those caucusgoers’ second-choice candidates, which barely changed the overall results.)

Trump’s 27-point lead is up from NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll in August, when Trump was ahead of DeSantis by 23 points, 42% to 19%. Haley was at 6% two months ago.

In the latest survey, Trump holds substantial advantages among almost all demographic groups — including evangelical Christians, previous caucusgoers, first-time caucusgoers and self-described Republicans.

He holds a narrower lead among self-identified independents, who can participate in the caucuses if they change their registration to Republican.

Sizable numbers still considering DeSantis, Haley and Scott

Despite Trump’s overall lead, sizable numbers of Iowa Republicans say they’re considering DeSantis, Haley and Scott.

Twenty-seven percent of likely caucusgoers pick DeSantis as their second choice, with an additional 25% saying they’re actively considering him.

“I like his stance on abortion on the moral side of life,” said poll respondent Roxi Gillen, 60, of Norwalk, Iowa.

Haley is the second choice of 17% of likely caucusgoers, with 22% more saying they’re actively considering her.

“I feel like she’s fresh, and I liked what she said about how the things that she did as governor of South Carolina — I mean … she’s a strong woman,” said Kristy Beckwith, 60, of Ankeny, Iowa.

And 10% have Scott as their second choice, with 32% saying they’re actively considering him.

Just 41% of caucusgoers say their minds are made up

Adding to the potential uncertainty of the coming Iowa caucuses, a majority of likely caucusgoers — 54% — say they could be persuaded to change their first-choice picks.

By contrast, 41% say their minds are made up.

Yet, as in August’s survey, Trump’s supporters are much more locked into their choice compared to those who are backing DeSantis or Haley.

A whopping 63% of Trump supporters say their minds are completely made up, compared with only about a third of DeSantis and Haley backers who say the same.

“This is a reminder of how locked in these Trump supporters are,” said Selzer, the Iowa pollster.

In addition, the poll finds that Trump’s supporters are much more enthusiastic about their candidate than other caucusgoers are.

Overall, 30% of likely Republican caucusgoers say they’re “extremely” enthusiastic about their first-choice selections.

But by candidate, 47% of Trump’s backers are extremely enthusiastic about their candidate, compared to 25% of DeSantis’ supporters and 19% of Haley’s voters.

Most caucusgoers dismiss Trump’s legal challenges

The NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll also shows 65% of likely caucusgoers saying Trump can win a general election against President Joe Biden, regardless of the legal challenges he faces.

That compares to 32% who say Trump’s legal challenges will make it nearly impossible for him to beat Biden.

Still, caucusgoers are divided over whether they want Trump to remain their party’s leader.

Thirty-nine percent of likely Republican caucusgoers believe he should — down from the 41% who said so in August.

Another 28% of caucusgoers say Trump was a good president but it’s time to consider other leaders.

And 32% say the Republican Party needs a new leader with better behavior and a different approach.

Other findings

Nearly two-thirds of likely Republican caucusgoers — 63% — say their candidate choices are based more on the issues, compared to 29% who say they’re based more on personality and leadership style.

The most popular GOP candidates, in terms of net favorable ratings, are DeSantis (69% favorable, 26% unfavorable), Scott (61% favorable, 22% unfavorable), Trump (66% favorable, 32% unfavorable) and Haley (59% favorable, 29% unfavorable).

The least popular are Christie (20% favorable, 69% unfavorable) and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (17% favorable, 45% unfavorable).

Before he suspended his campaign, Pence’s favorability rating in the completed poll stood at 32%, compared to 65% unfavorable, among likely GOP caucusgoers.

The NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll of 404 likely Republican caucusgoers was conducted Oct. 22-26 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.