Republican Primary Voters Think Trump Is More Electable Than DeSantis

By a large margin, potential GOP primary voters say Donald Trump has a better shot than Ron DeSantis of beating Joe Biden
Graphic of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former President Donald Trump at podiums conveying their expected race.
Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Kelly Rice
April 25, 2023 at 5:00 am UTC

Key Takeaways

  • 54% of potential Republican primary voters say Trump has the best chance of defeating Biden in the 2024 presidential election, compared with just 25% who say DeSantis.

  • That margin is similar to Trump’s advantage over DeSantis in Morning Consult’s daily tracking of GOP primary vote choice.

  • College-educated voters, who vote and consume news at a high rate, are less likely than those without a degree to see Trump as the best candidate to face the Democratic incumbent next year. They’re also more likely to support DeSantis in the race.

  • That makes college-educated voters an obvious starting point for DeSantis to target as he makes the case that he’s the most electable general election candidate.

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As he prepares to challenge former President Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has an ostensibly convincing pitch for Republican primary voters: He’s a winner, and Trump’s a loser.

It’s the so-called electability argument, and there’s no shortage of electoral evidence for it. After narrowly defeating Democrat Andrew Gillum for the governorship in 2018, DeSantis cruised to a second term in office by 19 percentage points last year, a margin wide enough to strengthen Republicans’ hold on the Florida Legislature and pave the way for an onslaught of conservative policy victories that have allowed him to continue burnishing his image as the right’s pre-eminent culture warrior at the state level.

Over that same time frame, Republicans surrendered both their House and Senate majorities, Trump became the first president since George H.W. Bush in 1992 to lose re-election, and the GOP had a relatively underwhelming performance in the 2022 midterm elections, with a number of Trump-backed candidates in competitive House and Senate races suffering high-profile losses.

But despite that evidence, Morning Consult survey data suggests DeSantis faces a sizable challenge in convincing GOP voters of his electability at the national level: By a large margin, potential Republican primary voters say that it’s Trump who has the best chance of defeating President Joe Biden in the general election.

Most GOP primary voters view Trump as their best bet for a 2024 victory

In a Morning Consult survey conducted April 20-23, we showed 794 potential Republican primary voters — that is, registered voters who said they plan to participate in the 2024 Republican presidential primary or caucus in their state — a list of 11 declared or potential GOP candidates and asked them who they think has the best chance of defeating Biden in 2024.

While 25% of potential Republican primary voters picked DeSantis, 54% picked Trump. That 29-point advantage is neatly in line with the consistent lead Trump has held over DeSantis in Morning Consult’s 2024 GOP Primary Tracker for months.

GOP Primary Voters, Especially Those Without a Degree, View Trump as the Party’s Best Chance of Beating Biden

Shares of potential Republican primary voters* who said the candidate with the best chance of beating Joe Biden in 2024 is …
Bar chart of potential Republican primary voters on which candidate is the best chance of beating President Joe Biden in 2024. The chart shows confidence in Trump’s electability is more pronounced among the voters who were chiefly responsible for his success in 2016: white voters without a college degree.
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*Registered voters who said they plan to participate in the 2024 Republican presidential primary or caucus in their state
Survey conducted April 20-23, 2023, among 794 potential Republican primary voters, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-4 percentage points. Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

The demographic makeup of the potential GOP primary electorate is revealing on this front. Confidence in Trump’s electability is more pronounced among the voters who were chiefly responsible for his success in 2016: white voters without a college degree, who constitute the bulk of the GOP electorate in our sampling. A majority of them (60%) say Trump has the best chance of defeating Biden in 2024, compared with just 40% of college-educated whites in the potential primary electorate.

DeSantis, meanwhile, is seen as the most electable candidate by 22% of whites without a college degree and by 36% of college-educated whites.

How education factors into the GOP’s electability picture going forward

Facing a large deficit in electability perceptions, DeSantis will need to make up ground on both sides of the educational divide in the party’s electorate. That looks like an easier pitch to make to college-educated whites, who have always been more inclined to oppose another Trump candidacy.

As previously mentioned, the survey provided respondents with a number of other potential or declared candidates, including Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, Kristi Noem, Liz Cheney, Glenn Youngkin, Tim Scott, Vivek Ramaswamy and Asa Hutchinson. On the electability question, college-educated whites were twice as likely as whites without a college degree to opt for one of these other names (18% versus 9%). They are also more likely to be politically engaged, vote, and read news about current events and politics. While Trump’s indictment in Manhattan doesn’t appear to be causing him problems, a number of higher-stakes investigations at the state and federal level represent more jeopardy for the former president. Additional Trump indictments anticipated for the coming months are therefore more likely to both penetrate and drive voting behavior among this group.

If our 2024 GOP Primary Tracker is any guide, these dynamics — coupled with Trump’s penchant for generating more negative buzz than positive — will likely benefit DeSantis more than Trump. Looking back at DeSantis’ best polling performances, which came around the turn of the year, the GOP’s relative underperformance in the midterm elections and DeSantis’ own dominant performance in Florida came as he performed better with potential Republican primary voters who are white and college-educated.

For example, DeSantis’ best showing against Trump so far in the cycle came in a Dec. 31-Jan. 2 survey, when he trailed Trump by 11 points. At the time, DeSantis had a 14-point lead among college-educated whites, compared with a 20-point deficit among whites without a college degree. By comparison, the latest survey tracking the race found that Trump has a 14-point lead over DeSantis among college-educated whites and a 44-point lead among whites without a degree, amounting to a 37-point lead among the broader Republican electorate.

These trends inform our outlook that if the Florida governor is going to make any headway against Trump as he prepares to launch his campaign this summer, the most obvious place to start is with the college-educated portion of the electorate. These voters are likely to be more receptive to the electability argument, and solidifying that segment of the base could provide momentum to a DeSantis campaign that appears to be flailing before it’s even left the ground.

A headshot photograph of Cameron Easley
Cameron Easley
Lead U.S. Politics Analyst

Cameron Easley is Morning Consult’s lead analyst for U.S. politics. Prior to moving into his current role, he led Morning Consult's editorial coverage of U.S. politics and elections from 2016 through 2022. Cameron joined Morning Consult from Roll Call, where he was managing editor. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Follow him on Twitter @cameron_easley. Interested in connecting with Cameron to discuss his analysis or for a media engagement or speaking opportunity? Email [email protected].

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