Trump maintains dominance before caucuses

DES MOINES, Iowa — Former President Donald Trump has a nearly 30-point lead among evangelical Christians, first-time caucuses and registered Republicans, according to him. Final NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll before Monday's GOP caucuses.

The poll finds Trump enjoys the support of highly enthusiastic and dedicated caucusgoers, which is especially important with the state's subzero temperatures and chilly wind chills on caucus night.

“I know there's a lot of controversy over him, but I feel like he's the man for the job right now,” said Owen Mantz of Des Moines, a 34-year-old poll respondent who said he supports Trump. “You know, I don't feel like anybody else in the running is as deserving as he is.”

Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley is tied for second place behind Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, though the gap is on the edge of the polls.

While Haley's first-choice support has soared, just 9% of her supporters say they are very enthusiastic about her candidacy — significantly lower than enthusiasm for Trump and DeSantis.

“There is fundamental weakness here,” said pollster J. Ann Selzer said of Haley's position. “If the turnout is low, it seems to me that a disproportionate share of his supporters will likely stay at home.”

According to Iowa polls conducted by Selzer for the past three decades, Trump receives first-choice support from 48% of Republicans — followed by Haley at 20%, DeSantis at 16% and entrepreneur Vivek Ramasamy at 8%.

Trump has a 28-point lead over his nearest rival, albeit down slightly from the 32-point advantage he enjoyed in December's NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll.

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But if his current lead holds on caucus night, it would be a huge win for Iowa's Republican presidential candidate. The current record margin, 13 points, was set by Bob Dole in 1988.

“He's still in command, but there's drift,” Selzer said of Trump. “With no real challenge on the horizon, the game appears to be secondary.”

Trump's strongest groups are evangelical Christians (51% of whom chose him as their first choice), registered Republicans (54%), first-timers (56%) and those without a college degree (59%).

Haley's 20% first-choice support in the poll is up 4 points from December's poll, and he's doing well among independents (33% choose him as their first choice) and those with college degrees (27%).

Surprisingly, about half of Haley's supporters are either independents (39%) or Democrats (11%) — significantly different from the poll's overall makeup, which is 69% Republican, 23% independent and 5% Democrat.

DeSantis' 16% first-choice support is down 3 points from December, when he was a distant second to Trump.

The Florida governor is overperforming among evangelicals, with 22% of them choosing him as their primary candidate.

The poll was underway when former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie suspended his presidential campaign on January 10. But Christie didn't set foot in Iowa during his campaign, preferring to focus his resources and attention elsewhere, and Iowa polls show almost no change. After he left. (The fraction of Caucuses who chose Christie as their first choice had their support reallocated to their second choice, which did not affect the overall horse race.)

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Jan. 11, a bus supporting former President Donald Trump outside the Machine Shed in Urbandale, Iowa. Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Excitement factor helps Trump, hurts Haley

Beyond Trump's lead in first-choice support, what stands out in the polls is the enthusiasm of his supporters.

While 32% of all Republicans say they are “very excited” about their candidate, nearly half of Trump's supporters — 49% — say the same about the former president.

“He's a proven winner. He knows what to do from day one. There's no learning curve,” said poll respondent Joel Shaw, 65, of Batavia, Iowa, who said he supports Trump.

By contrast, 23% of DeSantis' supporters say they are very enthusiastic about the Florida governor. Just 9% of Haley's supporters say they are very enthusiastic about her — up from 21% who said the same about her in December.

“Not very excited,” said a poll respondent, a 34-year-old independent from Cedar Rapids, of his support for Haley. “Making the point [Haley] Because… she seems the only smart one, and I'm willing to do anything to keep Trump from ever getting another chance.

The poll found that more than two-thirds of Republican caucuses — 68% — had made up their minds, up from 49% who said the same in December.

This compares to 25% who say they can still be persuaded, which dropped to 46% last month. The rest of the electorate is still undecided.

As with the excitement factor, Trump has an advantage over his rivals, who say their minds are made up.

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Eighty-two percent of Trump's supporters say their minds are made up, compared to 64% of DeSantis' supporters and 63% of Haley's supporters.

“I would give my vote to one of them to defeat Trump,” said poll respondent Nicole Woodley, 43, of Clarion, Iowa, who is still deciding between DeSantis and Haley, who voted for President Joe Biden in 2020.

A campaign sign stands in the snow outside Donald Trump's campaign headquarters in Urbandale, Iowa, on January 13. The Iowa caucuses are scheduled for Jan. 15, the first vote in the presidential race.Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Other findings in the poll

Trump has the highest net favorable/unfavorable rating among GOP candidates at 69% favorable, 29% unfavorable (+40). He is followed by DeSantis at 58% favorable, 36% unfavorable (+22); Ramasamy 52% favorable, 36% unfavorable (+16); and Haley 48% favorable, 46% unfavorable (+2).

Haley's 59% favorable, 31% unfavorable rating in December (+28) is down significantly after facing a wave of television attack ads in the past month.

When it comes to the second choice, 20% of Caucasians choose DeSantis as their backup choice, 18% choose Ramaswamy, 14% choose Haley, and 12% choose Trump.

And Trump enjoys the most committed people — 87% of Trump's supporters said they would always back him as their first choice. That's compared to 67% of DeSantis supporters and 46% of Haley supporters, who said they always support those candidates as their first choice.

The NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll of Iowa was conducted Jan. 7-12 among 705 Republicans and has a margin of error of plus-minus 3.7 percentage points.

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