Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa started 2023 more popular with Republican voters in her state than nearly any other GOP governor, but her decision to oppose former President Donald Trump’s candidacy for her party’s 2024 presidential nomination and endorse Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ failed campaign appears to have weakened that grip on the conservative base.
According to our latest U.S. Governor Approval Outlook, 49% of Iowa voters approve of Reynolds’ job performance, down from 55% in the first quarter of 2023 before she crossed former President Donald Trump, while 46% now disapprove, up 39% over that time frame.
2023 Was a Rough Year for Kim Reynolds
Reynolds’ decline was driven in part by a sizable share of independent voters turning on her over the year in which — among other things — she signed a strict anti-abortion law and appeared alongside Republican presidential candidates, but also a large decline in favor among Republican voters, who will be key to her success should she run for re-election in 2026.
The share of Iowa Republicans who approve of her job performance dropped from 89% to 80% over the course of 2023, but more striking is how that support has softened. Roughly 2 in 5 Iowa Republicans (41%) “strongly” approve of how Reynolds is handling her job, down from (59%) in the first quarter of 2023 before she waded into her state’s presidential contest.
Reynolds’ standing at home has given her an uncomfortable distinction: She is again among America’s most unpopular governors — just slightly ahead of DeSantis, her unsuccessful endorsee.
Governor Approval Rankings, Q4 2023
According to the latest surveys, 51% of Florida voters approve of DeSantis’ job performance, down from 56% at the beginning of 2033, while 45% disapprove (up from 38%). That 12-point decline in his net approval rating (the share who approve minus the share who disapprove) was driven almost equally by independents and Republicans.
DeSantis’ GOP Strength Softens in Florida After Presidential Bid
To be sure, with an 84% approval rating among Florida Republicans, DeSantis is still popular with his voter base. But just like Reynolds, 2023 also drove a double-digit decline in the share of Republicans who strongly approve of his job performance. It reveals a potential weak spot for him to keep his eye on as he pushes to reassert himself in Tallahassee.
2023’s most vocal anti-Trump Republican governor, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, also faced some blowback from Republicans in his home state, but unlike Reynolds and DeSantis, Sununu’s political power rests on a more ideologically diverse base of support.
Sununu’s Coalition Swung Left Amid Trump Attacks
As Sununu publicly went to the mat against Trump before eventually endorsing former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in December, his net approval rating declined by 16 points over the course of 2023. However, that intraparty decline was matched by an equal boost among New Hampshire Democrats, helping him to maintain his status among America’s most popular governors alongside North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who ran a quiet campaign for the GOP’s presidential nomination himself while sidestepping attacks on Trump.
The bottom line
This data continues to underline a truth in American politics: Republicans cross Trump at their own peril.
For some, like Sununu in relatively moderate New Hampshire, there are ways to make up for it by reaching for a broader coalition of voters. For others, such as Reynolds, it means finding themselves in the unenviable position of working to recover from alienating parts of their own base, a tough task given Trump’s influence and penchant for retribution.
It means most Republicans who want a future in a Trump-led Republican Party will need to publicly align with the 2024 front-runner — or privately cheer for his demise.