By Rick Manning
With former President Trump gearing up for another presidential run in 2024 and rumors flying about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis spinning up a campaign of his own, it’s anyone’s guess how the next presidential election is going to play out.
Early YouGov polling of all Americans shows they see the two prospective GOP challengers very differently. By a greater than two-to-one margin, Americans say they trust Trump more than DeSantis to handle the economy, taxes and government spending, foreign policy, and immigration. Americans trust DeSantis more to handle education and covid-19.
Trump is unsurprisingly a more polarizing figure than DeSantis, and more Americans have a defined opinion of the former president. The public largely sees Trump as more authentic, patriotic, and decisive, but sees DeSantis as more conservative, more “willing to compromise” and more “loyal to the GOP”.
Trump may not be a political newcomer anymore, but he is still viewed as a principled outsider by the American public with more patriotism than party-allegiance which could work to his advantage.
The surveys show only 5% of Americans aren’t sure how they feel about Trump, while nearly a quarter aren’t sure how they feel about DeSantis. Americans are exactly split on whether they view Trump favorably or unfavorably, with 46% saying they have a somewhat or very favorable view of Trump and 46% saying they have a somewhat or very unfavorable view. Just 7% don’t know how they feel. Slightly less Americans say they have a somewhat or very favorable view of DeSantis (40%), and 36% say they have a somewhat or very unfavorable view of him. Twenty-three percent of Americans don’t know how they feel about DeSantis yet, which could work to DeSantis’ benefit and allow him to define himself to undecideds.
Younger voters largely prefer Trump to DeSantis, while older voters favor DeSantis. Over half of voters eighteen to twenty-nine (51%) have a very or somewhat favorable view of Trump, while just 43% have a very or somewhat favorable view of DeSantis. Voters over 65 are the opposite, with 37% saying they have a very or somewhat favorable view of Trump while 42% say they have a favorable view of DeSantis.
When asked to rate Trump compared to DeSantis on a number of characteristics, voters say Trump is more authentic (18% to 16%), charismatic (24% to 16%), decisive (20% to 16%), and patriotic (19% to 12%). However, voters say DeSantis is more conservative (21% to 14%), “Loyal to the Republican party” (20% to 16%), and “willing to compromise” (18% to 12%).
Voters under 65 rank Trump higher on authenticity than DeSantis, but voters over 65 rank DeSantis higher. One of the largest discrepancies is on the issue of perceived intelligence. Americans say 20% to 17% DeSantis is more intelligent than Trump, but voters under 25 disagree, and say Trump is more intelligent than DeSantis. Voters over 65 say DeSantis is more intelligent by an over two-to-one margin.
Trump is the more popular choice among Republicans and Republican-leaners, with 47% saying they would choose Trump over DeSantis (36%) in a head-to-head matchup.
Interestingly, voters seem perfectly at ease with Trump’s criticism of DeSantis, with 46% saying Trump’s criticism is fair and 22% saying it is unfair.
While it is still early and public perception can change, it’s worth looking at the way Trump and DeSantis are viewed by the public, and it is hard to miss the glaring differences. On average, voters still see Trump as the political outsider who is brash, genuine, and willing to upset the globalist order and his own party if it means putting the American people first. DeSantis is already viewed as a torch bearer for the status quo and a loyalist to the GOP.
If these broad caricatures sound like a re-run of the 2016 GOP primaries when establishment GOP pick Jeb Bush and conservative darling Ted Cruz were eventually outpaced by Donald Trump, the next election could be interesting indeed.
Rick Manning is the President of Americans for Limited Government.