Just over half of Republicans likely to vote in their party's 2024 presidential primary say that they would prefer someone other than former President Donald Trump as the party's presidential candidate, a poll released on Tuesday by The New York Times and Siena College found.
After identifying Republicans likely to vote in the primary, the survey gave respondents a choice between Trump and five other potential GOP nominees. Only 49% of respondents chose Trump, despite the fact that the former president carried 94% of all Republican votes in the 2020 election, which he lost to current President Joe Biden.
Trump's closest challenger was Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who was chosen by 25% of respondents. Other potential candidates included Texas Senator Ted Cruz (7%); Trump's one-time running mate, former Vice President Mike Pence (6%); former South Carolina governor and Trump's ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley (6%); and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (2%).
Is Trump vulnerable?
The biggest question raised by the poll is whether it indicates that Trump might be vulnerable to a challenge in the Republican primary elections in 2024. Experts said that the results should be read with caution.
While Trump's lack of a clear majority in the poll may raise some eyebrows, "He's still pretty far ahead," Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, told VOA.
The importance of the poll, Kondik said, will depend heavily on how people — like DeSantis — choose to interpret it.
“Part of actual vulnerability is the perception of vulnerability," he said. "Does DeSantis, who is, at the moment, the most likely credible rival to Trump … see a path to victory? Does he think that that 50% or so is soft? Or is it stronger than that?"
Comparison to Biden
The data was released one day after findings from the same poll were published showing that the majority of likely Democratic primary voters would prefer that incumbent President Joe Biden not run for reelection in 2024.
Both men enjoy relatively high personal approval ratings within their respective parties, with 85% of Democrats reporting a favorable impression of Biden and 80% of Republicans reporting the same feelings toward Trump.
Biden's 85% personal favorability ranking masks some degree of discontent within the party about his performance in office. Facing high inflation and having difficulty pushing his agenda through Congress, the poll showed that his job approval rating is at 70% among Democratic primary voters, a relatively low number for an incumbent president.
In the data released Monday, the poll asked Democrats who said they would prefer a candidate other than Biden to say why they felt that way. The largest number, 33%, cited his age. Biden is 79, the oldest person ever to serve as president, and will be nearly 82 at the time of the 2024 election.
The data released Tuesday did not contain any questions about why voters who didn't select Trump chose a different candidate. Trump is currently 76, and will be 78 at the time of the 2024 election.
In Monday's release, all respondents were asked who they would vote for in 2024 if the two major party candidates were Biden and Trump. They preferred Biden by a margin of 44% to 41%.
On Monday, The White House reacted to the polling data with a shrug.
"There's going to be many polls; they're going to go up, and they're going to go down," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a briefing. "This is not the thing that we are solely focused on.”
Trump was not so blasé. On Tuesday morning he released an angry statement criticizing The New York Times and accusing it of targeting him repeatedly over the years.
"Fake polls, phony stories, and made up quotes — they are a disgrace to journalism and have set it back many many years. THE NEW YORK TIMES IS TRULY THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!" he wrote.
Among Republican primary voters, Trump's strength varies greatly depending on the educational attainment of individual voters. Among those with a high school education or less, he commands 62% of the vote, with DeSantis a distant second with 19%. However, among voters with a bachelor's degree or higher, Trump and DeSantis are deadlocked at 29% each.
"It makes sense to me that the folks with four-year degrees might be a little more skeptical of Trump and maybe more toward DeSantis," Kondik, of the Center for Politics, said.
Kondik noted that there has recently been a large amount of positive coverage of DeSantis in "elite conservative media," which is more broadly consumed by highly educated Republicans.
"We know, also, that to the extent that Trump drove people out of the Republican Party, a lot of those folks are people that have four-year degrees."
Support for Trump's election falsehoods
The poll also found that a large majority of Republicans supported the actions that Trump took in the wake of the 2020 election, when he continued to spread false claims of election fraud after losing dozens of court challenges to election counts across the country.
His efforts to challenge the election results resulted in the assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, when thousands of his supporters stormed Congress as lawmakers were preparing to formally recognize Biden's victory.
Republican voters were asked if they thought Trump was "just exercising his right to contest the election" or if they believed "he went so far that he threatened American democracy." The overwhelming majority, 75%, said that they believed Trump was just exercising his rights. Just 19% said he went too far, with the remainder declining to answer.
Again, white Republican voters without a college degree were most likely to support Trump, with 80% saying he had been within his rights in his post-election actions. Among white Republican college graduates, that figure was 68%.