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Poll: DeSantis’s support collapses ahead of 1st GOP debate

Last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis launched a heavily hyped campaign “reboot,” in hopes of saving his struggling bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

It hasn’t worked, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll.

Republican presidential candidate and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during a campaign stop in Manchester, New Hampshire on August 19, 2023. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
Republican presidential candidate and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during a campaign stop in Manchester, New Hampshire on August 19, 2023. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The survey of 1,665 U.S. adults, which was conducted from Aug. 17 to 21, shows that DeSantis’s support among potential GOP primary voters has fallen farther — and faster — over the last few weeks than ever before, plummeting from his previous low of 23% in mid-July to just 12% today.

Vivek Ramaswamy surges

To put the governor’s 11-point collapse in perspective, DeSantis was actually leading former President Donald Trump in a head-to-head matchup, by 45% to 41%, as recently as February. And while the governor's standing has steadily declined since then — a glitchy campaign announcement and a series of unforced errors haven’t helped matters — he has nonetheless tended to place a clear second in soundings of the full GOP field for much of the year.

Not anymore, however. According to the new Yahoo News/YouGov poll, DeSantis is now just 4 points ahead of the tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy (at 8%, up from 3% previously). For the first time, more Republican and Republican-leaning voters say they’re “not sure” whom they would support if their state’s primary were held today (14%) than say they would support DeSantis.

Trump, meanwhile, is lapping the field at 52% — up from 48% previously, and statistically tied with his highest number to date. His 40-point lead over DeSantis is also a new record. (Just last month, the former president led by 25.) No other GOP hopeful clears 5%, with South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott (4%), former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (3%), former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (2%) and former Vice President Mike Pence (2%) continuing to languish in the low single digits.

Will the debate make or break DeSantis?

DeSantis’s free fall couldn’t come at a more pivotal moment. On Wednesday, eight second-tier Republican candidates — a group that includes DeSantis and all of the Trump alternatives mentioned above, as well as North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (0%) and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (0%) — will meet in Milwaukee for the party’s first 2024 primary debate.

DeSantis’s debate debut will give him a chance to re-establish his status as the GOP’s top Trump challenger — or, if he stumbles, to solidify the growing impression that his moment has passed.

The Yahoo News/YouGov survey makes it painfully clear that non-Trump Republicans have soured on the governor. One measure is how he performs in a hypothetical two-way matchup with Trump. Here, DeSantis has lost 10 points since last month, slipping from 33% to 23%, while Trump has gained 6, climbing from 54% to 60%.

What’s striking is not just that DeSantis has sunk to a new low on this question (down from 31%) or that Trump has ascended to a new high (up from 57%). It’s that Trump’s support is so much higher head-to-head against DeSantis — 8 points higher, to be exact — than it is against the full field, suggesting that many Republicans who are theoretically open to voting against Trump are not willing to do so if that specifically means voting for DeSantis.

More headwinds for DeSantis

Ultimately, it’s changing perceptions of DeSantis that account for this shift — not changing perceptions of Trump. Among potential Republican primary voters, the former president’s overall personal rating is now 75% favorable to 23% unfavorable, essentially matching last month’s result (76% favorable to 22% unfavorable). But over the same period, DeSantis’s favorable rating has fallen by 4 points (from 71% to 67%) while his unfavorable rating has jumped by five (from 17% to 22%).

Today, just 24% of potential GOP primary voters give DeSantis a “very favorable” rating. That’s down 10 points since July — and down by more than half (from 51%) since last summer.

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The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,665 U.S. adults interviewed online from Aug. 17 to 21, 2023. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (32% Democratic, 27% Republican). Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.8%.