Former president Donald Trump is polling at 48 percent in Iowa, maintaining a wide lead over his two main rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, according to the Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom poll released Saturday night.
For months, Trump has dominated the rest of the field, but the race for second place has been hard-fought. The latest poll shows that former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley has seized the No. 2 position with 20 percent support, ahead of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis with 16 percent.
This poll is widely considered an important benchmark, revealing voters’ preferences less than 48 hours before Monday’s caucuses. The results are always anticipated, revealing who may be gaining momentum in the final days of the race.
Haley’s uptick in support comes despite a decline in her overall popularity with Iowa voters. Her favorable rating dropped to 48 percent in the latest poll, from 59 percent in December, while her unfavorable rating rose to 46 percent, from 31 percent. DeSantis also saw his favorable ratings decline, though 58 percent still view him positively.
The poll also found Haley’s supporters were much less enthusiastic about going to the caucuses. A 61 percent majority of Haley backers said they are “mildly enthusiastic” or “not that enthusiastic” about turning out. By contrast, 88 percent of Trump’s supporters said they are “extremely enthusiastic” or “very enthusiastic” about caucusing for him, while 62 percent of DeSantis supporters said the same.
“The deep data on [Haley] suggest she looks stronger in the poll than she could on caucus night,” pollster J. Ann Selzer told the Des Moines Register.
Haley is looking ahead to New Hampshire, where she is hoping to woo the state’s more moderate, independent voters, but a stronger-than-expected finish in Iowa on Monday could give her a boost going into that contest.
A Suffolk University poll released Thursday found Trump leading with 54 percent support, with Haley in second at 20 percent and DeSantis at 13 percent.
In previous years, the final poll, conducted by Selzer & Co., has accurately captured late breakout candidates. In 2016, it showed Trump in the lead, at 28 percent, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) at 23 percent. But, at the time, Selzer noted that Cruz appeared to show deeper support than Trump. Cruz went on to win the Iowa caucuses.
There was a similar trend in 2012. The final Republican poll had found former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Texas congressman Ron Paul with a narrow edge over the field, but with former senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania gaining. Santorum narrowly won the Iowa caucuses that year.
Cruz and Santorum both won with strong support from evangelical Christians, who typically make up a majority of Iowa caucus-goers. The new poll found Trump leading among that group with 51 percent compared with 22 percent for DeSantis and 12 percent for Haley. In the 2016 caucuses, evangelical Christians favored Cruz over Trump by 12 percentage points, according to the network entrance poll.
Jeff Pitts, a lobbyist for the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition — which has stayed neutral in the race — said evangelicals have rallied behind Trump this time because he has a conservative track record, namely appointing the three Supreme Court justices who led to the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
“He’s a fighter and he fights for them. I think people on our side, rightly or wrongly, I think, feel pushed around by political correctness. When somebody’s willing to stand up to it, I think they rally behind that,” Pitts said.
Trump’s support is strongest among Republican voters without a college degree (59 percent) as well as those with incomes of less than $50,000 (60 percent). But Trump also leads among college graduates with 34 percent support compared with 27 percent for Haley.
Complicating turnout this year will be the weather — Iowa is being hit by a blizzard, and meteorologists have warned about whiteout conditions and record-breaking cold.
Trump canceled two in-person campaign events Saturday because of the weather. Instead, he attended a tele-rally with Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird, where he touted his lead in the polls.
“I think we have a huge advantage here,” Trump said. He said that he worried about the weather but added that the news reports are “saying the Trump voter has so much more spirit, dedication. They say they walk over glass.”
Haley resumed campaigning in person Saturday after holding virtual events Friday because of the weather. DeSantis also traveled around the state Saturday for events with Never Back Down, the super PAC running his field organization, and dropped into the group’s West Des Moines campaign office with surrogates, including Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R)
The Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom poll was conducted by phone Jan. 7-12 among 705 Iowa registered voters who said they will definitely or probably attend the GOP caucuses Monday. The margin of sampling error for overall results is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
Marianne LeVine, Dylan Wells and Hannah Knowles contributed to this report.