Why Donald Trump Is the GOP’s Most Electable Candidate

The former president’s base remains loyal, and is threatening to play spoiler in the November race if he’s not on the ballot
Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Natalie White
January 22, 2024 at 5:00 am UTC

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In their quests for the Republican presidential nomination, both Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley have tried to convince voters that they’re better positioned than Donald Trump to defeat President Joe Biden in November. 

But while it’s clear, and has been for some time, that Republican voters haven’t bought Haley’s and DeSantis’ arguments, another inconvenience for Trump’s rivals is that head-to-head polling against Biden doesn’t support them either. 

And while, historically speaking, polling conducted this far out from a presidential election is less predictive than what we’ll see in the months to come, the main reason polling shows Trump outperforming DeSantis and — to an even greater extent, Haley — against Biden is worth highlighting: A significant number of Republicans are threatening a protest vote in November if Trump isn’t on the ballot.

1 in 4 Republicans Say They’d Opt for a Third-Party Vote in November if It’s Haley vs. Biden

Shares of voters who say they’d vote for “someone else” if the following are matched up against Joe Biden in November:
Morning Consult Logo
Surveys conducted Dec. 14-18, 2023, among 9,969 registered U.S. voters, with unweighted margins of error of +/-1 to 2 percentage points for responses shown.

According to Morning Consult surveys conducted in mid-December, 26% of Republican voters would vote for “someone else” on their ballot if the available major-party options were Haley and Biden. A smaller but nonetheless ample 16% of Republicans said they’d vote third party if their choices were DeSantis and Biden. By contrast, just 7% of GOP voters said they would opt for a third-party candidate if it’s a Trump-Biden rematch.

Those differences are why Trump and Biden were tied in the survey, at 43% each, while Biden led Haley 40% to 32% and DeSantis 42% to 36%. This dynamic also persists in the battleground states that will decide which party controls the White House in 2025.

Using the Dec. 14-18 surveys, Morning Consult’s data scientists applied a modeling technique called multilevel regression and post-stratification, or MRP, to produce state-level vote choice estimates for each of the three hypothetical matchups mentioned above. 

The MRP model used in this analysis — which differs from traditional state-level polling data — relied on age, gender, education and race and ethnicity as individual-level predictors. For state-level predictors, the model used median household income, urban population share, unemployment rate, real GDP change, health insurance rate and Trump 2020 two-party vote share. 

The modeling finds Trump leading Biden in each of the seven states expected to decide the winner of November’s election: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It’s a different story for DeSantis and, especially, for Haley. 

Biden Looks Stronger Against Haley and DeSantis Due to Third-Party Defections

Estimates of presidential vote choice in the following battleground states:
Morning Consult Logo
Surveys conducted Dec. 14-18, 2023, among 9,969 registered U.S. voters. Morning Consult used multilevel regression with post-stratification (MRP) to produce the state-level estimates. Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

While Biden leads DeSantis in 6 of the 7 battlegrounds — trailing only in the Tar Heel State — Biden leads Haley across the board. Compared with Trump, Haley’s struggles in particular are attributable to third-party defections, with roughly twice as many voters in these states saying they’d vote for someone else if the candidates are the former governor and Biden.

What it means for 2024 

Campaign operatives and supporters in Haley’s and DeSantis’ orbits would likely make some reasonable rebuttals to these findings. 

As I mentioned earlier, we are still relatively far out from the election. Presidential polling doesn’t become especially predictive until both parties have chosen their nominees. It’s typically sensible to expect that Republican voters would eventually come home and support their party’s nominee, even if that nominee were not their first or even second choice. 

But there’s also a big problem with this line of reasoning, and it has everything to do with Trump: If the Republican Party is going to eventually unify its base around a non-Trump candidate, it’s going to need Trump’s blessing and full-throated endorsement. 

There is little evidence to suggest that would happen. Instead, the far likelier scenario is that Trump would tell his die-hard supporters to stay home, back a third-party candidate or maybe even vote for Biden. 

That would rip the GOP base apart and destroy any chance the party would have of making Biden a one-term president. The fact that some Republicans are already threatening to lodge a protest vote in November if Trump isn’t the GOP nominee, per our surveys and the findings presented above, underlines how distinct of a possibility this scenario is.

As has been noted repeatedly throughout the past 8 years, elected Republicans and the official GOP are at the mercy of Trump and his supporters. For better or worse, that will remain the case through 2024 at the earliest.

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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