PUBLISHED Jan. 18, 2024, at 11:00 AM

Where Do Republican Voters Stand Ahead Of The New Hampshire Primary?

We partnered with Ipsos to ask Republicans about their party's presidential candidates and key issues.

The best-laid plans of politicians and pollsters often go awry. Thursday night was supposed to be the sixth debate of the Republican presidential primary, and three candidates were originally lined up to participate: former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. But Christie dropped out of the race last week, and on Tuesday, Haley announced she would not participate in any more debates unless they were against former President Donald Trump or President Joe Biden. With only one candidate left to take the stage, the debate was scrubbed.

But we still have a poll to share! Before each of the first four GOP debates this cycle, 538 partnered with Ipsos to take the temperature of likely Republican primary voters heading into the event. We did the same with this one, and even though there will be no post-debate poll to compare them to, the results still shed some interesting light on the state of the GOP presidential contest as we head into New Hampshire’s primary next week.

Who voters are considering

Share of likely Republican primary voters who are considering voting for each candidate

Respondents could pick multiple candidates.

According to the 538/Ipsos poll, which was conducted Jan. 10-17 using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, Trump is in a dominant position. Sixty-seven percent of likely Republican primary voters said they were at least considering voting for him. By contrast, 43 percent said they were considering voting for DeSantis, and 39 percent said they were considering voting for Haley. (All numbers in this article exclude respondents who skipped the question, which is why our numbers sometimes differ from those on Ipsos’s website.) Those are pretty similar numbers to the last time we asked this question, in December.

Those numbers add up to more than 100 percent because we asked respondents who they were considering voting for, not for their first choice. Respondents could say they were considering multiple candidates. These numbers show that DeSantis and Haley have higher ceilings than straight horse-race polls imply, but the issue is, most Republicans are choosing Trump over them.

The popularity contest

Candidates' favorable and unfavorable ratings among likely Republican primary voters

No opinion/Never heard of

According to the poll, Trump also had the highest net favorability rating — a.k.a. the share of Republicans who said they had a favorable opinion of him minus the share who had an unfavorable opinion — at +34 percentage points. However, DeSantis was pretty popular among Republicans too, with a +25-point net favorability rating. Haley’s net favorability rating was still net positive at +18 points, but she had room to grow: 24 percent of respondents said they didn’t have an opinion of her.

Which issues matter most?

Share of likely Republican primary voters who said each issue was among the most important to determining their primary vote

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Next, we presented likely Republican primary voters with a list of 20 issues and asked them to pick up to three that would be most important in determining their vote. By far, the two most cited issues were getting inflation or costs under control (49 percent) and controlling immigration (48 percent). That was also the case the last four times we conducted this poll, although in the past, respondents were significantly more likely to pick inflation than immigration. The closing gap could be because inflation is easing while immigration officials are encountering a record number of people attempting to cross the southern border. Meanwhile, issues like limiting abortion and improving election security were not cited by even 10 percent of respondents.

Finally, we also asked about several topics that have recently been in the news. For example, 73 percent of respondents said they were very or somewhat familiar with the U.S. House voting to authorize an impeachment inquiry into Biden, and 83 percent said they were very or somewhat familiar with Colorado’s and Maine’s rulings that Trump should be disqualified from the primary ballot (those rulings have both been stayed pending a final decision by the U.S. Supreme Court). Unsurprisingly, 84 percent of likely Republican primary voters felt the efforts to remove Trump from the ballot were politically motivated, while just 21 percent thought they were justified by the law (respondents could say both were true). But they don’t think those efforts are going anywhere anyway: Only 24 percent of respondents thought it was very or somewhat likely that those rulings would stay in place. In fact, a plurality (47 percent) of respondents thought these efforts would actually make Trump more likely to win in a general election against Biden — only 15 percent thought they would make Trump less likely to win.

We also asked about Haley’s recent answer to a voter’s question about what caused the Civil War. She did not mention slavery but rather cited “the role of government and what the rights of the people are.” (She later clarified that “of course” slavery was one of the causes of the war.) Our poll found that more likely Republican primary voters thought slavery was a major cause of the Civil War (68 percent) than thought that the role of the federal government was a major cause (56 percent). Only 7 percent thought slavery was not a cause of the war, while 10 percent thought the role of the federal government wasn’t.

However, Haley’s response may not hurt her much among voters, simply because they didn’t hear about it. (The gaffe came during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day when many Americans probably weren’t paying attention.) In the poll, only 46 percent of respondents said they were very or somewhat familiar with the exchange, while 30 percent said they had not heard of it at all.

All the data presented here comes from polling done by Ipsos for 538 using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, a probability-based online panel that is recruited to be representative of the U.S. population. This poll was conducted from Jan. 10 to Jan. 17 among a general population sample of adults, with 5,568 respondents who said they were likely to vote in their state’s Republican primary or caucus. For the likely Republican primary voter subset of respondents, the poll has a margin of error of ±1.55 percentage points. Click here for a full methodology.

Editing by Tia Yang. Copy editing by Cooper Burton. Visual editing by Christopher Groskopf. Additional contributions from Mary Radcliffe.