Haley surges into second behind Trump in Iowa as DeSantis slinks into third

A new statewide poll of Iowa with just weeks to go before caucusing begins shows what could end up being one of the most dramatic shifts in support of the 2024 Republican primary thus far.

Nikki Haley has surged into second place thanks to a 10-point swing in her favour registered by the Emerson College poll between September and December; the former UN ambassador and South Carolina governor clearly benefiting from successive positively-received debate performances and the cratering of support for Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida.

Mr DeSantis, who previously held the runner-up title in Emerson’s previous poll of Iowa caucusgoers, has sunk into third place after registering a bump of just one percentage point over three months. It’s a statistic that spells disaster for the DeSantis campaign, which has bet much on the first-in-the-nation contest on 15 January. The governor has visited every one of Iowa’s 99 counties over the past year — completing what is known as the “Full Grassley” — and won the crucial endorsement of Kim Reynolds, Iowa’s Republican governor.

Neither fact appears to be enough to change the reality: Mr DeSantis has failed to capture any momentum for his campaign, and now trails Ms Haley in a state where she has focused far much less of her time and money than did her rival.

Donald Trump, unsurprisingly, remains on top. The former president is the frontrunner to win not just the Iowa caucuses but the entire Republican primary season at this point; however, like Mr DeSantis, he gained just one per cent over September-December. That result in particular suggests that the four-times-indicted former president, who is facing unprecedented legal hurdles and its associated political baggage, has topped out his support among Republican voters. Roughly half of the Iowa Republican electorate is behind the idea of keeping the Trump movement alive at this point, while the other half is divided among various leaders hoping to be what comes next.

That sets up an interesting dynamic for 15 January, which thanks to Iowa’s caucus system will feature several rounds of vote-counting and politicking and the chance to see these trends play out in real time. If the polling can be believed, DeSantis and Haley supporters both could have real choices to make as the night drags on. The same goes for supporters of Vivek Ramaswamy and Chris Christie, whose candidates both registered single-digit levels of support in the Emerson survey and will likely have to decide upon a second choice.

Emerson’s poll surveyed 420 Republican caucusgoers between 15-17 December; the credibility interval for the GOP subsample in the survey was 4.7 percentage points.