How DeSantis Could Make Up Ground Against Trump
22% of potential GOP primary voters support Ron DeSantis, while 56% support former President Donald Trump.
DeSantis is well-known compared with other current and potential GOP candidates besides Trump, but notable shares of GOP voters do not know how they feel about him when asked about a range of personal traits, providing an opportunity when voters get to know him better.
DeSantis trails Trump on voter trust to handle a range of issues, but is strongest on education and race relations than other topics.
To get our reporting and data on the 2024 presidential election delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our Washington newsletter.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has entered the race for the Republican presidential nomination at a time when former President Donald Trump remains dominant with the party’s potential electorate, armed with a formidable lead and a wide advantage in voter trust on key issues.
But while Trump maintains majority support inside his party, there is a not-insignificant chunk of the GOP’s voters — driven by the highest-educated and the oldest among them — who have indicated their openness to backing an alternative, suggesting an opening for DeSantis as he begins his bid, Morning Consult survey data shows.
The Florida governor faces the crucial task of trying to bring that fifth of the electorate that backs someone else behind him — and luring some of Trump’s backing. Fewer voters have formed views about DeSantis’ personality and leadership traits compared with Trump — a potential opportunity to bolster his coalition — yet he faces a trust deficit against the former president to handle a range of issues.
What DeSantis’ base looks like
According to the latest Morning Consult Political Intelligence tracking, DeSantis trails Trump by double digits (56% to 22%) among potential primary voters. DeSantis’ support is largely unchanged since last week, increasing 1 percentage point since the day he announced his campaign on May 24. But, Trump’s support has seen some modest attrition in DeSantis’ favor after reaching a high point in mid-May, according to Morning Consult’s 2024 GOP primary tracker.
DeSantis Trails Trump Among Key Groups Following Campaign Launch
DeSantis’ backing is still strongest among groups such as self-described conservatives (25%), suburbanites (25%), voters over the age of 65 (26%) and college-educated whites (29%) — but he still trails Trump in all of those demographics.
These groups had helped fuel DeSantis’ early competitiveness in the nascent stage of the Republican primary, giving him a base to compete with the former president’s dominance among the party’s youngest voters and the white working class. But any special status DeSantis had with higher-educated and older voters has been erased in recent months as Trump has grown stronger with a wider range of the party’s voters.
DeSantis Has Lost Ground Among Older Voters, Higher-Educated Whites
DeSantis started the year with daily leads over Trump among the GOP’s prospective white, college-educated voters, but Trump has now taken a formidable 17-point lead. And after competing closely against Trump with voters older than 45, DeSantis now trails him by 27 points.
At this early stage, DeSantis appears to be competing in part for supporters of other current and potential candidates besides Trump. That’s because DeSantis’ backers and supporters of other candidates tend to be older and more educated, while Trump’s base tends to skew less educated and younger.
DeSantis More Reliant on Educated, Older Voters Than Trump
That suggests that a smaller field would boost DeSantis, if he can consolidate the 22% of GOP primary voters who back other candidates behind him and can win over some Trump supporters.
“Trump is so far ahead that DeSantis both needs to consolidate the non-Trump vote and weaken Trump’s own level of support. This involves both attacking Trump and also rising much further above the increasing number of other Republican alternatives,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “It’s a heavy lift.”
How DeSantis could make up ground
Helping his tough task of potentially siphoning off support from Trump and other candidates’ is DeSantis’ formidable name recognition advantage: 85% of potential GOP primary voters have views about him, and the vast majority of those impressions (71%) are positive, giving him a higher favorability rating than anyone currently in the race besides Trump.
But even with that prominence — first fueled in the conservative press and now boosted by exposure on a wider stage — notable shares of voters do not know how they feel about him when asked about a range of personal traits, in contrast to Trump, about whom most voters’ views are baked in. That suggests that DeSantis still has room to grow voters’ understanding of him as he introduces himself to GOP primary voters as an alternative to Trump who is seen as more acceptable to the wider electorate.
GOP Voters Less Likely to Say DeSantis Encourages GOP’s Extremes
For example, potential Republican primary voters are far more likely to describe Trump than DeSantis as someone who “encourages the more extreme elements in the Republican Party” (58% to 38%) or is “reckless” (38% to 19%), but roughly 1 in 5 don’t know how they feel about the Florida governor when considering those descriptors.
There are also gaps between primary voters’ perceptions of Trump and DeSantis when voters were asked about positive traits, such as whether the candidate “cares about people like me” (79% to 65%) and “is a strong leader” (85% to 70%). Nearly 1 in 5 express uncertainty about DeSantis on those issues, providing an opening for a segment of voters to still make up their minds as they get a better look at him.
DeSantis faces GOP issue trust gap
Beyond personality traits, DeSantis also faces a disadvantage to Trump when it comes to voter trust on a range of policy issues — something he and his allies are looking to fix on the campaign trail and in ad blitzes over the next several months in the face of Trump’s strength.
Trump Holds Trust Advantage on Wide Range of Issues
Among the GOP primary electorate, Trump is more trusted than DeSantis to handle national security (71% to 19%), immigration (70% to 20%) and the economy (71% to 19%). DeSantis performs best in voter trust on the issue of education, his signature issue as he’s fought what he has described as wokeness in public schools, but he still trails Trump, 33% to 53%.
Eli Yokley is Morning Consult’s U.S. politics analyst. Prior to his current role, Eli was Morning Consult’s senior reporter covering U.S. politics. 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].