Poll Shows Iowa GOP “Divided”

But what does this actually mean?

NBC News declares that an Iowa poll shows GOP divide over Trump’s remaining party leader. Sounds dramatic! It made me click, after all. But like so many attempts to suggest (like the Younkin rumblings) that there is some drama in the GOP primaries, it really is a story that is desperate to be a story more than anything else.

The basic numbers:

Forty-one percent of likely caucusgoers say Trump should continue as the Republican Party’s leader, in line with the 42% of respondents who picked him as their first choice ahead of the Jan. 15 caucuses.

Yet a combined 57% of caucusgoers say that Trump was a good president but that it’s time to consider other party leaders (26%) or that the party needs a new leader with better personal behavior and a different approach (31%).

Ok, let’s consider the following:

  1. We are just under 6 months away from actual voting taking place, which means no one is being forced to decide in the now.
  2. Trump does have serious baggage, including never winning the popular vote, losing altogether in 2020, being indicted all over the place, and well, being Trump.
  3. There is a crowded field, meaning at least theoretical alternatives.
  4. Trump did not win an absolute majority of the primary vote nationally in 2016.
  5. But also: he is the most recent GOP president.

All of this sums to: it should be neither a surprise that Trump is the far and away frontrunner for the nomination, nor that there are some divisions in the party.

Further, the very nature of the Iowa process, which allows decisions until the very last minute incentivizes thinking about other possibilities.

Here’s the breakdown in terms of candidate support at the moment:

When your nearest competitor has less than half your level of support, you can worry very little about how “divided” the electorate is.

Moreover, the truly anti-Trump lane, such as it is (Pence and Christie) sums to 11%. I mean, I understand the insatiable hunger for horserace coverage (it is the only way the US press knows how to cover elections, it would seem), but yes, there are divisions, but the lead horse is currently lapping the nearest competition and crushing the rest by miles.

When second-place preferences come into play, Trump is currently at 52%. DeSantis is only at 39%.

So, yes, potential GOP Iowa caucus-goers are, in deed, divided. But that division is such that Trump is the clear favorite and prohibitively so.

FILED UNDER: 2024 Election, US Politics, , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Kylopod says:

    Today I saw another poll result from Iowa which I consider pretty significant. It’s that a majority of likely Iowa caucus-goers believe Trump won the 2020 election.

    This is one of the big hurdles for any non-Trump Republican hoping to win the nomination. Let’s be clear, the belief is not simply that the 2020 election happened to be stolen from Trump. They believe it was literally impossible for Trump to lose in 2020. I watched one of Frank Luntz’s focus groups a while back, and what struck me was that in casting doubt on the 2020 results, the first thing they talked about wasn’t stories of voter fraud, it was Biden spending the entire campaign in his basement. They couldn’t accept even the possibility that the doddering old fool (they mean Biden, just to be clear) could defeat their orange god. It was a version of what Richard Dawkins used to call the Argument from Personal Incredulity–the notion that if I can’t understand how something could have happened, then it didn’t happen.

    It’s one of the biggest challenges the other Republicans face. The voters can’t move on to another candidate when their entire perception of reality is shaped by Trump deification, which is the ultimate root of the 2020 denial claims; it isn’t just another conspiracy theory in their paranoid brains. It robs his rivals of their strongest argument against him from a Republican perspective, which is that he’s a loser.

  2. EddieInCA says:

    Thanks for this, Dr. Taylor.

    If I. had hair, I’d be pulling it out due to all the horse race coverage.

    1. We’re still 16 months out from actual voting.

    1A. We still have no idea who will ACTUALLY be the candidates. While it looks like it will be Trump v. Biden, both are old, and either or both could, literally, drop dead suddenly.

    2. It’s easy to say “I don’t want Biden to run” or “I wish someone else would be the Democrat nominee” until asked “Who?”. Then… crickets, given that Newsome, Whitmer, Pritzker, et al, have shown no inclination to primary Biden. No one can give the name of who would actually run and win a Dem primary against Biden.

    3. Hard to take any national polls seriously so far out, especially given what’s happening on the ground in Michigan (all Dem statewide office holders), Wisconsin (flipping supreme court), Georgia (Trump indictments), Kansas and Ohio (abortion ruling). There will be many local issues (Abortion, Marijuana) on ballots that will favor Dems.

    4. WE ARE STILL 6 months from the FIRST Caucus!

  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    None of these people is a threat to Trump if Trump stays healthy.

    Paraphrasing something I wrote here yesterday, here’s how Trump destroys Tim Scott. “You’ve never been married, Tim? Never even close? I mean, you’re a good looking guy, lots of women out there. . . but not even one, huh? Me, I like the ladies.”

    The Ramaswamy kill? Have your people create some memes showing Vivek in frame with Ganesha, the Hindu god who’s a blue elephant. Then in the debate he’ll find an obnoxious way to say, ‘Ramaswamy’ and riff on the ‘swami’ part. Har har har.

    DeSantis? Well, on the grounds that you never interrupt an enemy who is busy destroying himself. . . And Pence doesn’t need killin’, he’s long-since committed suicide.

    Only Christie worries Trump. That’s why he won’t debate. Sharks know other sharks. Not that he thinks Christie can win, he just knows Christie won’t back down. Bully on bully debate violence.

    Also, if by some miracle – and it would be a miracle – Trump actually loses the nomination, he will not hesitate to attack the winner and perhaps even launch an independent campaign.

    The GOP climbed on the back of this rabid tiger and there is no safe dismount.

  4. Andy says:
  5. Bill Jempty says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    None of these people is a threat to Trump if Trump stays healthy.

    What he is healthy now? I think you mean still breathing and…… Others can fill in the rest.

  6. Slugger says:

    I’m a long way from Iowa. I grew up in the Midwest but left fifty years ago and don’t have a finger on the pulse back there. What are the issues that Iowans care about, and how are the candidates addressing those issues? “Stolen election 2020”, drag queens at storytime, or government agents flying into the World Trade Center just seem like headlines on supermarket tabloids to me. Maybe life is so good in Iowa that there are no real worries. Alternatively, maybe we’re all crazy. Trump has somehow tapped into some fundamental fears that I don’t share.

  7. wr says:

    And for all the media hyperventilating, this is Iowa we’re talking about. Iowa, which has nominated an almost-unbroken string of losers, has-beens and never-wases. Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz. What happens in Iowa stays in Iowa, thank God, and yet we have to keep hearing about how this contest to win over the most insane evangelicals in the country is key to our future.

  8. Kylopod says:

    @wr: In this sense, it’s kind of the worst of both worlds for non-Trump Republican candidates. If Trump wins Iowa, it’s just what everyone expected, and he sails to the nomination. If Trump loses to someone else, then everyone remembers the history that it’s a state that often picks insurgent candidacies that go on to die.

  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    The Iowa state slogan is actually, “What doesn’t happen in Iowa, stays in Iowa.”

  10. Mister Bluster says:

    The best thing to come out of Iowa is an empty bus…

  11. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    But Iowa is paradise, according to my niece-in-law, a born and bred Iowan.

  12. Daryl says:

    I think Pat Buchanan belongs on that list of winners who weren’t, too, doesn’t he?

  13. Kylopod says:

    @Daryl: Buchanan actually won NH, not Iowa, in 1996. I find that rather interesting, given Iowa’s tendency to back Christianist theocrat types (though it seemed to like Bob Dole, perhaps because of his popularity among farmers) and NH’s rep as a place for moderate or libertarian-ish Republicans.

  14. Daryl says:

    Thanks – I knew he won something and got his participation trophy.

  15. Kathy says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    Were it not for its overhyped presidential season caucus, I’d only recall Iowa’s existence due to United flight 232, which crash-landed at Sioux City, IA.

  16. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    None of these people is a threat to Trump if Trump stays healthy.

    I think Trump’s support is a bit more precarious than that. If he looks weak, at all, it crumbles.

    If he follows his lawyers’ advice and doesn’t attack prosecutors or witnesses, he looks weak. If he attacks them too much, he will face legal consequences, which will make him look weak.

    A part of Trump’s “charm” is that he’s always fighting and he doesn’t submit. We know that’s bullshit, but if he ever shows anything else to his base he’s done.

  17. Kylopod says:

    @Gustopher: I think you are vastly overestimating the MAGA crowd’s ability to discern strength or weakness. They don’t love Trump because he projects strength. They love him because they desperately want to believe, against all available evidence, that he does.

  18. Bill Jempty says:

    One of my ebooks, the main plot being a television anchorwoman on trial for the murder of her parents, is 95% set in Iowa.

    I have two ebooks open in Kansas and two more unfinished stories that open there also. Six*of my ebooks open in Florida. Not surprising for a Florida resident.

    *- Including my Iowa story. It is told as a flashback.

  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: True enough. On the other hand, the fact that he looks weak to us does not necessarily mean that he looks weak to people who support him given that they are living in a parallel cosynchronous universe.

  20. Fog says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: And there is another factor to consider. I just watched Eastman profess his utter certainty that Trump actually won the election, and my first thought was that he knows the truth but that he uses his “belief” in the Big Lie as a shield against his treason. It’s another motive for for being a true believer.