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Trump Crushing DeSantis and G.O.P. Rivals, Times/Siena Poll Finds

Former President Donald J. Trump is dominating his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, leading his nearest challenger, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, by a landslide 37 percentage points nationally among the likely Republican primary electorate, according to the first New York Times/Siena College poll of the 2024 campaign.

Mr. Trump held decisive advantages across almost every demographic group and region and in every ideological wing of the party, the survey found, as Republican voters waved away concerns about his escalating legal jeopardy. He led by wide margins among men and women, younger and older voters, moderates and conservatives, those who went to college and those who didn’t, and in cities, suburbs and rural areas.

The poll shows that some of Mr. DeSantis’s central campaign arguments — that he is more electable than Mr. Trump, and that he would govern more effectively — have so far failed to break through. Even Republicans motivated by the type of issues that have fueled Mr. DeSantis’s rise, such as fighting “radical woke ideology,” favored the former president.

Overall, Mr. Trump led Mr. DeSantis 54 percent to 17 percent. No other candidate topped 3 percent support in the poll.

Below those lopsided top-line figures were other ominous signs for Mr. DeSantis. He performed his weakest among some of the Republican Party’s biggest and most influential constituencies. He earned only 9 percent support among voters at least 65 years old and 13 percent of those without a college degree. Republicans who described themselves as “very conservative” favored Mr. Trump by a 50-point margin, 65 percent to 15 percent.

Still, no other serious Trump challenger has emerged besides Mr. DeSantis. Former Vice President Mike Pence, the former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina each scored 3 percent support. Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor, and Vivek Ramaswamy, an entrepreneur, each received support from just 2 percent of those polled.

Yet even if all those candidates disappeared and Mr. DeSantis got a hypothetical one-on-one race against Mr. Trump, he would still lose by a two-to-one margin, 62 percent to 31 percent, the poll found. That is a stark reminder that, for all the fretting among anti-Trump forces that the party would divide itself in a repeat of 2016, Mr. Trump is poised to trounce even a unified opposition.

The survey comes less than six months before the first 2024 primary contest and before a single debate. In an era of American politics defined by its volatility, Mr. Trump’s legal troubles — his trials threaten to overlap with primary season — pose an especially unpredictable wild card.

For now, though, Mr. Trump appears to match both the surly mood of the Republican electorate, 89 percent of whom see the nation as headed in the wrong direction, and Republicans’ desire to take the fight to the Democrats.

“He might say mean things and make all the men cry because all the men are wearing your wife’s underpants and you can’t be a man anymore,” David Green, 69, a retail manager in Somersworth, N.H., said of Mr. Trump. “You got to be a little sissy and cry about everything. But at the end of the day, you want results. Donald Trump’s my guy. He’s proved it on a national level.”

Both Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis maintain strong overall favorable ratings from Republicans, 76 percent and 66 percent. That Mr. DeSantis is still so well liked after a drumbeat of news coverage questioning his ability to connect with voters, and more than $20 million in attack ads from a Trump super PAC, demonstrates a certain resiliency. His political team has argued that his overall positive image with G.O.P. voters provides a solid foundation on which to build.

But the intensity of the former president’s support is a key difference as 43 percent of Republicans have a “very favorable” opinion of Mr. Trump — a cohort that he carries by an overwhelming 92 percent to 7 percent margin in a one-on-one race with Mr. DeSantis.

By contrast, Mr. DeSantis is stuck in an effective tie with Mr. Trump, edging him 49 percent to 48 percent, among the smaller share of primary voters (25 percent) who view the Florida governor very favorably.

In interviews with poll respondents, a recurring theme emerged. They like Mr. DeSantis; they love Mr. Trump.

“DeSantis, I have high hopes. But as long as Trump’s there, Trump’s the man,” said Daniel Brown, 58, a retired technician at a nuclear plant from Bumpass, Va.

“If he wasn’t running against Trump, DeSantis would be my very next choice,” said Stanton Strohmenger, 48, a maintenance technician in Washington Township, Ohio.

A number of respondents interviewed drew a distinction between Mr. DeSantis’s accomplishments in Tallahassee and Mr. Trump’s in the White House.

“Trump has proven his clout,” said Mallory Butler, 39, of Polk County, Fla. “And DeSantis has, but in a much smaller arena.”

The truly anti-Trump faction of the Republican electorate appears to hover near one in four G.O.P. voters, hardly enough to dethrone him. Only 19 percent of the electorate said Mr. Trump’s behavior after his 2020 defeat threatened American democracy. And only 17 percent see the former president as having committed any serious federal crimes, despite his indictment by a federal grand jury on charges of mishandling classified documents and his receipt of a so-called target letter in the separate election interference case being brought by the office of the special counsel, Jack Smith.

“I think Donald Trump is going to carry a lot of baggage to the election with him,” said Hilda Bulla, 68, of Davidson County, N.C., who supports Mr. DeSantis.

Yet Mr. Trump’s grip on the Republican Party is so strong, the Times/Siena poll found, that in a head-to-head contest with Mr. DeSantis, Mr. Trump still received 22 percent among voters who believe he has committed serious federal crimes — a greater share than the 17 percent that Mr. DeSantis earned from the entire G.O.P. electorate.

Mr. DeSantis has made taking on “woke” institutions a centerpiece of his political identity. But when given a choice between a hypothetical candidate who prioritized “defeating radical woke ideology” or one who was focused on “law and order in our streets and at the border,” only 24 percent said they would be more likely to support the candidate focused on fighting “woke” issues.

Equally problematic for Mr. DeSantis is that those “woke”-focused voters still preferred Mr. Trump, 61 percent to 36 percent.

The ability to defeat Mr. Biden and to enact a conservative agenda is at the core of Mr. DeSantis’s appeal to Republicans. He has warned that Mr. Trump has saddled the party with a “culture of losing” in the Trump years and has held up his resounding 2022 re-election in the once purple state of Florida as a model for the G.O.P. As governor, he has pushed through a sweeping set of conservative priorities that have sharply reoriented the state and promised he would bring the same policymaking zeal to the White House.

Yet these arguments do not appear to be working. A strong majority of Republicans surveyed, 58 percent, said it was Mr. Trump, not Mr. DeSantis, who was best described by the phrase “able to beat Joe Biden.” And again, it was Mr. Trump, by a lopsided 67 percent to 22 percent margin, who was seen more as the one to “get things done.”

Mr. DeSantis narrowly edged Mr. Trump on being seen as “likable” and “moral.” Interestingly, the share of Republicans who said Mr. Trump was more “fun” than Mr. DeSantis (54 percent to 16 percent) almost perfectly mirrored the overall horse race.

“He does not come across with humor,” Sandra Reher, 75, a retired teacher in Farmingdale, N.J., said of Mr. DeSantis. “He comes across as a — a good Christian man, wonderful family man. But he doesn’t have that fire, if you will, that Trump has.”

Increasingly on the trail, Mr. DeSantis is calling attention to his “blue-collar” roots and his decision to serve in the military as reasons voters should support him as he runs against a self-professed billionaire. But the poll showed Mr. Trump lapping Mr. DeSantis among likely Republican primary voters earning less than $50,000, 65 percent to 9 percent.

As of now, Mr. DeSantis’s few demographic refuges — places where he is losing by smaller margins — are more upscale pockets of the electorate. He trailed Mr. Trump by a less daunting 12 points among white voters with college degrees, 37 to 25 percent. Among those earning more than $100,000, Mr. DeSantis was behind by 23 points, half the deficit he faced among the lowest earners.

The fractured field appears to be preventing Mr. DeSantis from consolidating the support of such voters: In the hypothetical one-on-one race, Mr. DeSantis was statistically tied with Mr. Trump among white college-educated voters.

On a range of issues, the poll suggests it will be difficult for Mr. DeSantis to break through against Mr. Trump on policy arguments alone.

In the head-to-head matchup, Mr. Trump was far ahead of Mr. DeSantis among Republicans who accept transgender people as the gender they identify with, and among those who do not; among those who want to fight corporations that “promote woke left ideology,” and among those who prefer to stay out of what businesses do; among those who want to send more military and economic aid to Ukraine, and among those who do not; among those who want to keep Social Security and Medicare benefits as they are, and among those who want to take steps to reduce the budget deficit.

Mr. Trump leads Mr. DeSantis among Republicans who believe abortion should always be legal, and among those who believe it should always be illegal.

Mr. DeSantis signed a strict six-week abortion ban that Mr. Trump has criticized as “too harsh.” Yet Mr. Trump enjoyed the support of 70 percent of Republicans who said they strongly supported such a measure.

Marcel Paba, a 22-year-old server in Miami, said he liked what Mr. DeSantis had done for his state but didn’t think the governor could overcome the enthusiasm for Mr. Trump.

“There are just more die-hard fans of Trump than there are of Ron DeSantis. Even in Florida,” Mr. Paba said. “I don’t see people wearing a Ron DeSantis hat anywhere, you know?”

Camille Baker, Alyce McFadden and Ruth Igielnik contributed reporting.

The New York Times/Siena College poll of 932 voters in the likely Republican primary electorate was conducted by telephone using live operators from July 23 to 27, 2023. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.96 percentage points. Cross-tabs and methodology are available here.

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