The GOP’s Electorate Is Losing Interest in Primary Debates
Ahead of the second primary debate, 38% of potential Republican primary voters say debates are “very important,” down from 49% who said the same in advance of the first debate in August. It suggests former President Donald Trump’s absence from the stage may be working to deprive his challengers of needed attention for their struggling campaigns.
Since last month, Trump’s supporters have become less likely to say he should participate in all debates (from 58% to 44%).
Meanwhile, the share of primary voters backing another candidate who said Trump should participate increased (from 35% to 41%).
When it comes to the issues at hand, potential GOP primary voters have become more likely to say it’s “very important” for the candidates to discuss the economy (from 79% to 85%) and immigration (69% to 74%), while the share who prioritized China fell (51% to 46%).
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The second Republican presidential primary debate looks set to attract less interest from GOP primary voters than the first, suggesting former President Donald Trump’s continued absence from the stage is depriving his challengers’ fledgling campaigns of some much-needed attention.
Fewer Potential GOP Primary Voters Are Placing a Premium on Debates
According to our latest survey, 38% of potential Republican primary voters now say debates are “very important,” down from 49% who said the same in advance of the first debate in August. The decline was slightly larger among voters supporting Trump, 2 in 5 of whom see the matchups as that important, compared with 36% of the people backing someone else.
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It’s the latest sign that the party faithful are taking their cues from Trump, who clearly doesn’t see Wednesday’s Reagan Library stage as important, and will instead be in Michigan to meet with union workers — some of whom are core to his coalition as his presence in the GOP has helped improve the GOP’s brand with the working class.
Despite his dominance in the race nationwide, Trump’s decision not to participate in the first two matchups — and the idea that he may not participate in future ones — nevertheless remains at odds with the bulk of views among the GOP’s electorate.
Trump Supporters Have Become Less Likely to Want Him on the Debate Stage
The vast majority of potential Republican primary voters (72%) said Trump should participate in at least some debates, similar to the share who said the same before the Aug. 23 debate, compared with 17% who said he should participate in no debates. However, the gap has closed on the question for Trump supporters and those backing someone else. The former have become less likely to think he should participate, while the latter are pushing for him to show up.
Without Trump on stage, expectations are high for entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, the No. 3 contender for the nomination, who had 9% backing in the latest update to our GOP primary tracker.
Expectations Are Still Highest for Ramaswamy, but the Stakes Are Raising for Haley
Roughly a third of voters expect Ramaswamy to perform best, matching the share who said the same last month, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — the No. 2 contender, with 15% support in our tracking of the primary contest — has seen expectations drop, while they’ve grown for former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who enters the second contest on stronger footing than she did the first.
When it comes to the issues at hand, there has been a slight uptick in the share of voters who said it’s “very important” for the candidates to discuss the economy (from 79% to 85%) and immigration (69% to 74%), while the share who prioritize China has fallen (51% to 46%).
Three in 10 potential Republican primary voters say it’s very important that candidates discuss Trump (31%) or President Joe Biden (32%).
The bottom line
Our ongoing tracking of the GOP’s 2024 presidential contest suggests Trump paid no price for skipping the first debate. And ahead of the second debate, the fact that GOP primary voters are decreasingly likely to see the debates as pivotal provides another sign that Trump’s debate evasion strategy is working — or at least isn’t hurting him.
Barring any major gaffe from candidates on stage with significant support, such as DeSantis or Ramaswamy, the second debate is unlikely to shift the trajectory of the contest for the GOP’s 2024 presidential nomination given the fragmented nature of the forces in the party pushing for someone other than Trump to carry the mantle next year.
Eli Yokley is Morning Consult’s U.S. politics analyst. Eli joined Morning Consult in 2016 from Roll Call, where he reported on House and Senate campaigns after five years of covering state-level politics in the Show Me State while studying at the University of Missouri in Columbia, including contributions to The New York Times, Politico and The Daily Beast. Follow him on Twitter @eyokley. Interested in connecting with Eli to discuss his analysis or for a media engagement or speaking opportunity? Email [email protected].