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2024 Iowa GOP Caucus
The State of the Race
The field for the 2024 GOP Presidential Primary is beginning to take shape.1 We are now less than seven months away from the Iowa caucuses.2 For fifty years, Iowa has held the position of first state to vote in the presidential primaries. That means that candidates seeking the nomination spend a heavily disproportionate amount of their time and money in the state in hopes of catching momentum there and using it as a springboard to success in other states.
GOP candidates are already flocking to Iowa where the campaign trail has been heating up for over months now.3 With that in mind, I think it’s a good time to check in on what the polls are saying about how those campaigns are faring.
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Can Anybody Catch Trump?
The polls reflect a clear delineation between Donald Trump (averaging 46%, ranging between 37% and 62%), Ron DeSantis (averaging 23%, ranging between 19% and 30%), and the rest of the candidates (who are all in the single digits). Among Iowa GOP voters, Trump has roughly double the support of Ron DeSantis who himself has a sizeable lead over all the other candidates.
With that said, the polls do not necessarily reflect that this is a two-man race. If you divide the polls into two groups with the first group being the first five polls, conducted in April and May, and the second group being the second five polls, conducted in June and July, you can see a clear drop in support for Trump and a slight decrease in support for DeSantis:
It’s interesting to see that overall percentage of respondents who are either undecided or support somebody other than Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis has increased over the last couple of months.
The grey line in this chart (representing all respondents who were either undecided or said they supported somebody other than Trump or DeSantis) is catching up with the blue line (representing those who support Trump) and clearly surpassed the orange line (representing those who support DeSantis).
This would seem to indicate an increase in the number of people who would consider voting for somebody other than Trump or DeSantis. However, that doesn’t mean much if those voters do not coalesce behind a particular challenger, but remain divided among the plethora of candidates vying for their attention.
Tim Scott on the Rise
It is going to be important, then, to keep an eye on these other candidates to see if anybody makes a move to coalesce that support. And, right now, one candidate in particular seems to be gaining momentum: Tim Scott.
The red line in this chart reflects Tim Scott’s significant momentum since formally launching his campaign on May 22. Tim Scott is the only candidate to have gained more than 1% in the polls over the last two months, with his support more than doubling (from around 3% in April and May to around 7% in June and July).
Senator Scott’s early success is not all that surprising given his high favorability ratings6, sizable war chest7, massive TV ad spending in Iowa8, and the exposure he got from his clash with the hosts of The View.9 The biggest impediment to Scott’s success is the viability argument. A lot of voters just don’t see the path to victory for a candidate down in the single digits in the polls, especially where there is a favorite like Donald Trump sitting in the mid-40s.
Scott is very close to getting out of the single digits now, though. It could be really interesting to see what happens if he can separate himself from the pack and join Trump and DeSantis at the big boys table. In many ways, Scott presents a more formidable challenge to Trump than DeSantis. Without directly criticizing Trump, Scott has stylistically positioned himself as the anti-Trump with a positive campaign emphasizing hope for America’s future.
Where DeSantis is essentially running as Trump without the baggage, Scott has broader appeal both to the voters who like Trump but are unsure about the baggage as well as those who staunchly oppose Trump and his style of politics. Scott also has a really strong electability argument to make for the general election (just watch his ad).
Is There Enough Time?
Eight years ago today, on July 7, 2015, Jeb Bush was the presumptive favorite to win the 2016 GOP Presidential Primary.10 Nationally, he stood at 16% in the polls. Scott Walker, Ben Carson, and Marco Rubio made up a second tier with around 9-10%. Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul had about 7-8%. After jumping in the race in late May, Donald Trump was sitting at 6.5% (7th in the race). Ted Cruz was sitting at 4%.
In Iowa, Scott Walker was averaging about 18% in the early polls while Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, and Rand Paull were all neck-and-neck, averaging about 9-10% in the polls.11 Ben Carson was at 8%. Ted Cruz was at 7%. Donald Trump was at 6%.
By the time the Iowa caucus rolled around, Scott Walker had dropped out of the race after abysmal debate performances and Ted Cruz won the caucus with 28% of the vote.12 Donald Trump pulled off a strong second place finish, besting Marco Rubio by just 1.2%. A little over a week later, Donald Trump won the New Hampshire primary where John Kasich made a strong second-place showing.13
At that point, the race was effectively narrowed to a 4-man contest: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich. By the time the primary was done, Donald Trump won with 45% of the vote.14 Ted Cruz finished second with 25% of the vote, never able to coalesce enough of the anti-Trump vote to overcome him in the primaries, dividing it instead with Rubio and Kasich.
From this brief history, we can see that (1) the Iowa caucus is still a long way away and will probably look very different from current polling numbers - there’s certainly plenty of time for somebody sitting in the single digits right now to jump up into much higher territory, (2) the results of the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary will go along way towards settling who the realistic contenders are, and (3) how quickly support coalesces around a viable opponent to Trump after Iowa and New Hampshire will tell the tale as to whether or not he can be beaten.
The exact date of the 2024 Iowa GOP caucus has not yet been set but is expected to be held in January 2024. There has been some interesting saber-rattling going on behind the scenes between Iowa, New Hampshire, and party leaders about the 2024 primary calendar as there has been recent pushback, especially among Democrats, to Iowa’s position as first-in-the-nation party caucus, a position it has held since 1972. https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/elections/presidential/caucus/2023/05/17/iowa-republicans-target-january-caucus-date-as-uncertainty-swirls/70220148007/
It’s important to note that at least three of these polls were sponsored by Donald Trump or his close allies. Not surprisingly, those three polls produced some of Trump’s best numbers.
Tim Scott may not be well-known, but he is very well-liked by those who know about him. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/02/16/tim-scott-2024-polling-republican-presidential-campaign/