Donald Trump has consolidated the support of slightly above half of his party at this early stage of the race for the Republican nomination, a newly released CNN poll conducted by SSRS finds, highlighting the former president’s potential path to a third nomination – and the challenges his rivals will face over the next months in establishing their own bases of support.
The Republican field remains far from settled. In the days since the poll was conducted, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott declared his candidacy, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also set to announce his bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination Wednesday night in a conversation with Twitter owner Elon Musk.
Trump is the first choice of 53% Republican and Republican-leaning voters in the primary, roughly doubling DeSantis’ 26%. But the survey also finds that wide swaths of Republican-aligned voters are willing to consider either of the two, as well as several other candidates. More than 8 in 10 either support or say they’re open to considering Trump (84%) and DeSantis (85%), and smaller majorities say they support or would consider former UN ambassador Nikki Haley (61%), Scott (60%) and former Vice President Mike Pence (54%). Haley and Pence are currently the first choice of 6%, according to the poll, with Scott at 2% along with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and five other candidates hold 1% support or less.
The survey also finds that most of the possible electorate has already ruled out a few names in the primary. Sixty percent say they would not support Christie for the nomination under any circumstances, and 55% say they’d never support former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson or New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, respectively.
Trump’s substantial advantage in first-choice support over DeSantis marks a shift from CNN’s March polling, which found the two men roughly neck-and-neck. That movement in Trump’s favor mirrors the findings of other recent national polling on the race.
Trump now leads DeSantis by similar margins among both older and younger voters, an apparent shift from March, when his backing was substantially weaker among those older than 45 than it was among younger Republican-aligned voters. The former president’s primary support now falls short of a majority among some relatively small blocs of Republican and Republican-leaning voters – among them, those who say President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory was legitimate (27% of whom support him), White college graduates (38%), self-described moderates or liberals (45%), and independents who lean toward the GOP (43%). But voters in those groups have yet to unite more strongly around any alternative either, with DeSantis below the 30% mark with each group and other candidates still further behind.
DeSantis’ best showing comes among self-proclaimed “very conservative” voters, 34% of whom support him, compared with 23% of those who describe themselves as “somewhat conservative.”
Roughly half of Republican and Republican-leaning voters, 52%, think it’s highly likely that Trump will win the party’s presidential nomination for a third cycle, with another 35% saying it’s somewhat likely, and just 13% saying it’s not too likely or not likely at all. His supporters are far more likely to express confidence in his chances: 71% of those who call Trump their first choice in the primary say it’s at least very likely he’ll win, compared with only 30% of those who do not currently support him.
GOP-aligned voters mostly say they’re content with Republican field
Nearly three-quarters (73%) of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters say they’re at least fairly satisfied with the current field of Republican candidates running for president, although just 18% describe themselves as very satisfied. Only 7% say they’re not satisfied at all. That assessment is similar to GOP-aligned voters’ view of their options in July 2015, shortly after Trump entered the race, though somewhat less buoyant than Democrats’ rating of their own large primary field in June 2019.
In the latest poll, Trump’s supporters are the most likely to be content – 82% who name him as their first choice express satisfaction with the field overall. DeSantis’s supporters are nearly as likely to be satisfied, 79% say so. Other Republicans are significantly less content: Just 47% of those backing other candidates or undecided about whom to support feel very or fairly satisfied with their choices.
Many voters are at least theoretically open to considering multiple candidates, providing room for the dynamics of the race to shift in coming months – on average, GOP-aligned voters say they’d be willing to think about the possibility of voting for roughly 6 out of the 11 names tested.
Trump’s supporters aren’t necessarily locked into backing him: Among those who call Trump their first choice in the primary, 87% also say they’d consider supporting DeSantis, 55% that they’d consider Scott, 51% that they’d consider Haley and 50% that they’d consider radio host Larry Elder. And likewise, among those who don’t call Trump their first choice, two-thirds (66%) still say they’d consider supporting him. Just 16% of all GOP-aligned voters say they wouldn’t back the former president under any circumstances.
GOP-aligned voters who describe themselves as moderates or liberals are 15 percentage points less likely than conservatives to say they’re satisfied with the GOP field. They’re also relatively likely to have ruled out the two current leading contenders, with 31% of this group saying they wouldn’t consider supporting DeSantis and 26% that they wouldn’t support Trump. By contrast, just 7% of conservatives say they wouldn’t back DeSantis, and just 11% that they wouldn’t support Trump.
There are other pockets of relatively strong opposition to candidates among the potential Republican electorate. Roughly half, 51%, of those who deny that Biden legitimately won the presidency in 2020 say they’d never support Pence, compared with 33% of those who acknowledge that Biden won. And 3 in 10 White college graduates say they’d never support Trump for the nomination, compared with 10% of White voters without degrees.
In a separate question, GOP-aligned voters were asked to pick up to three candidates they weren’t supporting but would like to hear more about. Scott (29%), DeSantis (28%), Haley (24%) and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy (24%) topped that list. Just 7% expressed an interest in learning more about Trump, ranking him close to the bottom of the list.
Overall, Trump maintains a 77% overall favorability rating among GOP-aligned voters, with just 18% viewing him unfavorably. By contrast, former Republican President George W. Bush’s rating is just 57%, with 29% viewing him unfavorably, and the rest expressing no opinion. Bush’s favorability rating is about 15 percentage points lower among Trump’s primary supporters than it is among the remainder of the party’s voters. Neither of the two living former Republican presidents is overwhelmingly popular among the full American public. Just 43% of adults have a favorable view of Bush and 37% feel positively toward Trump.
The CNN Poll was conducted by SSRS from May 17-20 among a random national sample of 1,227 adults drawn from a probability-based panel, including 476 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who are registered to vote. Surveys were either conducted online or by telephone with a live interviewer. Results among the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.7 points; among Republican and Republican-leaning voters, the margin of sampling error is 5.8 points.