Iowa Poll: Donald Trump’s Republican support erodes in Iowa, even as many remain committed

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Many Iowa Republicans remain committed to Donald Trump, but the former president is seeing his support erode as campaigning begins to heat up ahead of Iowa’s 2024 presidential caucuses, a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows.  

Trump, who launched a third White House bid late last year, has seen his favorability numbers in the first-in-the-nation caucus state steadily decline among Republicans since they peaked in September 2021. 

And the percentage of Iowa Republicans who say they would “definitely” vote for him if he were the nominee in 2024 has plummeted by more than 20 percentage points since June 2021.  

“Iowa is where the competition starts,” said pollster J. Ann Selzer, who conducted the Iowa Poll. “And someone who has already held the office and who won the state twice would be presumed to be the front-runner, and I don't know that we can say that at this point. 

“There's nothing locked in about Iowa for Donald Trump.” 

Trump’s favorability numbers put him about on par with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is making his first trip to Iowa Friday as he weighs a possible presidential run. And they’re substantially higher than those for declared challenger Nikki Haley and likely candidate Mike Pence.   

The data represent an early test of Iowans’ feelings toward the growing crop of candidates as they begin the task of vetting and winnowing the field during a busy caucus year.  

The poll of 805 Iowans, including 257 self-identified Republicans, was conducted March 5 through 8 by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. 

Questions asked only of Republicans have a margin of error of plus or minus 6.1 percentage points.  

Poll respondent Steven Goodenough, a 72-year-old Republican from Guthrie Center, said he voted for Trump in 2020 and would consider voting for him again in 2024, but he’s interested in hearing from the other candidates already making their way to Iowa.  

He said Trump may be his current top choice “by default,” but he’s interested in seeing how he conducts himself on the campaign trail.  

“I’m not a dyed-in-the-wool Trump fan,” Goodenough said. “I am probably more middle of the road with him. So, I'm looking for other options. But you know, I probably would vote for him again if he is the candidate.”  

More:Iowa or bust: Why the 2024 Iowa caucuses will be key to deciding GOP nominee

Goodenough said he likes that Trump brought “balance” to the judiciary, both in the Supreme Court and in other federal appointments, and he thought Trump’s policies helped stimulate the economy.   

But he expressed disappointment that Trump is already bringing a combative personality to the campaign trail, as evidenced by his attacks on candidates such as Haley and DeSantis.  

"I think that was evident during the presidency that he might have gotten further if he was not so combative," Goodenough said. 

Fewer say they would 'definitely' vote for Donald Trump in 2024 general election  

If Trump were to become the GOP nominee for president, 74% of Iowa Republicans say they would likely vote for him in the 2024 general election. 

That includes 47% who say they would definitely vote for him and 27% who say they would probably vote for him.   

Just 9% said they would be unlikely to vote for him, with 5% saying they would probably not vote for him and 4% saying they definitely would not vote for him.   

Another 12% say they “might or might not” vote for him, 3% say they wouldn’t vote at all and 2% were unsure.   

More:Ron DeSantis makes his Iowa caucuses debut with stops March 10 in Des Moines, Davenport

That’s a substantial shift from June 2021 when the Iowa Poll last tested the question. 

Then, 69% of Iowa Republicans said they would definitely vote for Trump in the 2024 general election — 22 percentage points more than say the same today — and another 15% said they would probably do so.   

In 2021, just 4% said they would be unlikely to vote for Trump, with 2% saying they probably would not and 2% saying they definitely would not.  

Another 10% said they “might or might not” for him, 1% wouldn’t vote at all and 1% were unsure.   

The question is relevant in a caucus cycle where Republicans are already beginning to discuss “electability” and who would be best positioned to take on Democratic President Joe Biden, who is expected to seek a second term. 

Dan Leinen, a 64-year-old poll respondent from Woodburn, said he is a Republican, but his views on Trump changed drastically following the Jan. 6th U.S. Capitol riot. 

Leinen said he didn’t like how Trump dealt with his election defeat and wouldn’t consider voting for him again — even if he were the Republican nominee for president.  

“I don’t think we need anybody like that in the White House,” he said.  

Former President Donald Trump holds a rally on Thursday, November 3, 2022, at the Sioux City Gateway Airport in Iowa.

Kendall Kirschbaum, a 21-year-old poll respondent and Republican from Lake Mills, said she thinks Trump was a strong president who successfully tackled key issues while in office, including promoting a strong economy, keeping down inflation, achieving low unemployment rates and strengthening security on the border, while also being good to farmers and small businesses.  

She said she recognizes his social media presence may have been offensive to some, but she said it didn’t really bother her. 

“Growing up, I really just heard of him as not necessarily a political figure but more as a celebrity,” she said.  

But after hearing Trump speak on policy, she said she realized “I really liked this guy. He is straightforward and he seems like he is going to get stuff done and he thinks like a businessman.”   

Donald Trump’s favorability falls; Ron DeSantis starts out strong 

A September 2021 Iowa Poll showed Trump was viewed favorably by 91% of Iowa Republicans. That fell to 83% in October 2022, and now it is at 80%.   

At the same time, Trump’s unfavorable numbers have climbed, with the percentage of Iowa Republicans viewing him unfavorably more than doubling — from 7% in 2021 to 18% now.   

Among independent Iowans, 35% view Trump favorably — down from 40% in October 2022 — and 63% view him unfavorably. 

Trump is set to return to the state March 13 for a rally in Davenport, just days after DeSantis makes his Iowa debut in the same city. Trump is expected to address education policy in his first Iowa campaign stop of the 2024 election cycle.   

The numbers follow a tumultuous couple of years for the former president, who is facing multiple investigations related to his involvement in efforts to subvert the results of the 2020 presidential election, his handling of classified documents and his past business practices.   

Those investigations continue as other declared and potential presidential contenders begin making their appeals to Iowans.   

More:Donald Trump to make first Iowa trip of 2024 presidential campaign

DeSantis, who is attending public events with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds in Davenport and Des Moines Friday, is viewed favorably by 74% of Iowa Republicans — just behind Trump’s 80%. He is viewed unfavorably by 6% of Iowa Republicans, with 20% saying they aren’t sure.   

Independent Iowans are nearly evenly split on DeSantis, with 35% viewing him favorably, 33% viewing him unfavorably and 32% saying they’re not sure.  

DeSantis has emerged in national polling as the early favorite to challenge Trump. 

A Real Clear Politics rolling average of polling shows 45% of respondents say Trump should be the Republican nominee for president, while 29% say it should be DeSantis. No other potential candidate is currently polling in double digits.   

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during an event spotlighting his newly released book, “The Courage To Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint For America’s Revival” in Pinellas Park, Florida on Thursday.

Poll respondent Alex Barry, a 31-year-old Cedar Rapids Republican, said he views Trump “very favorably” and would vote for him in a general election, but he worries that Trump, 76, would fail to gain necessary support. 

Barry said he thinks DeSantis would have a better chance of beating Biden.  

Barry called DeSantis, 44, a “younger, fresh face” and praised his “strong stance on parental rights.”  

“I liked what he did with COVID — he stayed open and didn’t restrict everybody,” he said. “… He just seems like the right guy to me.”  

Growing share have unfavorable view of Mike Pence; Nikki Haley relatively unknown 

Pence, who served as Trump’s vice president and was previously the governor of Indiana, is viewed favorably by 66% of Iowa Republicans. 

Pence has the highest unfavorable rating of the four politicians tested among Iowa Republicans at 26%. Another 7% are not sure.   

Those numbers have changed substantially since June 2020, when the Register last tested Republican Iowans’ attitudes of Pence. Then, 86% viewed him favorably, while just 7% viewed him unfavorably and 7% were not sure.   

Former Vice President Mike Pence is introduced during the Parents' Rights Grassroots Rally hosted by Advancing American Freedom, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, at Pizza Ranch in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Since then, many of Trump’s most loyal followers have turned on the former vice president after he refused to help Trump overturn the results of the 2020 election on Jan. 6, 2021. 

That day, some who rioted at the U.S. Capitol erected makeshift gallows and chanted “hang Mike Pence” as others flooded the halls of Congress in search of the vice president.   

Just 58% of Iowa evangelicals — the group consistently showing the most support for Republicans and seemingly one of Pence’s most natural constituencies — say they have favorable feelings toward him. 

Goodenough, the poll respondent from Guthrie Center, is a pastor and said he was disappointed with Pence’s handling of the 2020 election and wished the vice president had done more to investigate allegations of fraud.  

“I think he's a good man,” Goodenough said. “But I'm not sure he's really qualified for the job of the president.” 

Pence has traveled to Iowa multiple times since losing the 2020 election with Trump, and he’s been well-received at events around the state. He’s scheduled to return March 18 for a foreign policy forum alongside U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.   

More:Mike Pence rails in Iowa against 'radical gender ideology' as caucuses start to simmer

Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, was also in Iowa this week, holding events in Council Bluffs, Nevada and Des Moines. 

She announced her campaign in February and immediately traveled to Iowa where she has been advocating for a “new generation” of leaders, urging Iowans to look forward, rather than back at Trump. 

According to the poll, she is viewed favorably by 53% of Iowa Republicans and unfavorably by 8%. However, she is much less known than the others, with 40% saying they don’t know enough about her to form an opinion.  

Former US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley gives a speech in the middle of Royal Flooring in Urbandale on Monday, Feb. 20, 2023.

Kirschbaum, the Lake Mills Republican and Trump supporter, a 21-year-old poll respondent and Republican from Lake Mills, said she needs to learn more about Haley before coming to a strong opinion about her, but she likes that Haley is in the field of candidates. 

“I really like how she provides that kind of strong, independent female portrayal,” Kirschbaum said. “I feel like that’s a really good example, especially for the Republican party.”  

More:Nikki Haley is carving a lane in the Iowa caucuses as Donald Trump looms. Here's how:

Still, Kirschbaum said she currently prefers Trump for the GOP nomination, followed by DeSantis. 

Although favorability numbers don’t necessarily indicate how candidates will perform in a head-to-head race, Selzer said they are a helpful indication of name identification and visibility and help set the stage for the campaigning that will come.  

They also show the “intensity” of Iowa Republicans’ feelings about the candidates, she said. 

For DeSantis, a plurality of 42% rate their feelings as “very favorable.” Trump also has a plurality of Iowa Republicans saying they feel “very favorably” about him, at 44%. 

But for Pence and Haley, the plurality say they feel slightly less intense, rating their feelings as “mostly favorable.” For Pence, it is 49% and for Haley it is 37%. 

Brianne Pfannenstiel is the chief politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at bpfann@dmreg.com or 515-284-8244. Follow her on Twitter at @brianneDMR. 

Francesca Block is a breaking news reporter at the Des Moines Register. Reach her at FBlock@registermedia.com or on Twitter at@francescablock3. 

About the Iowa Poll  

The Iowa Poll, conducted March 5-8, 2023, for The Des Moines Register and Mediacom by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, is based on telephone interviews with 805 Iowans ages 18 or older. Interviewers with Quantel Research contacted households with randomly selected landline and cell phone numbers supplied by Dynata. Interviews were administered in English. Responses were adjusted by age, sex and congressional district to reflect the general population based on recent American Community Survey estimates.   

Questions based on the sample of 805 Iowa adults have a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. This means that if this survey were repeated using the same questions and the same methodology, 19 times out of 20, the findings would not vary from the true population value by more than plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Results based on smaller samples of respondents — such as by gender or age — have a larger margin of error.   

Republishing the copyright Iowa Poll without credit to The Des Moines Register and Mediacom is prohibited.

Iowa Poll methodology