TURES COLUMN: Why the DeSantis campaign collapsed, using polling data

Published 4:22 pm Monday, January 22, 2024

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Just after the 2022 election, Ron DeSantis was poised to become the nominee, or at least a very strong challenger to represent the Republican Party in 2024. This year, the Florida Governor didn’t even make it to New Hampshire. Pundits are churning out some pretty weak reasons. But a close look at the polls from Iowa voters reveal how badly the former top contender failed to run a campaign with a distinct identity, a warning for future candidates for higher office.

In his reelection bid just two years ago, DeSantis crushed his Democratic opponent by such a wide margin that the Florida Governor received all kinds of favorable publicity, enabling him to rise in national polls, and for his campaign and PAC to raise huge sums of money.

Now pundits are making all kinds of claims that DeSantis lost because of style points…an annoying laugh, a delay until late Spring of 2023 to officially announce his candidacy, the awkward X roll-out of too many staffers, poor spending choices and a key campaign ally playing with 1000-piece puzzles during the Iowa Caucus. Not one cost DeSantis a single vote.

To figure out what really happened, we turn to CNN’s publication of Edison Research and their polls of Iowa Caucus attendees, which focus more on what voters are considering.

The Florida Governor received support from half as many Republicans as Trump, and a quarter of the independents that South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley won. DeSantis also lost the moderates handily to Haley while finishing a distant second among conservatives.

 DeSantis even fell behind Haley for those “somewhat conservatives” in Iowa, and lost voters who accept the results of the 2020 election to the South Carolina governor.

Haley, on the other hand, stepped up to win the “right temperament” voters in the survey and outpointed DeSantis on the electability issue (ability to defeat Biden). She also took the “non-MAGA membership” category too in the Iowa entrance polls.

One of the only categories DeSantis won were Iowa Caucus-goers of the age 17-29 by five points, but so few of them showed up that it made little difference. DeSantis also won among those who think abortion’s the number one issue, but 89% who showed up don’t think that it’s the number one issue. Even firebreathers like the North Carolina Lt. Gov, the most pro-life candidate in America, has all but chosen to not talk about it in his gubernatorial run. DeSantis did not get that memo during the legislative session; the issue could cost the GOP in 2024.

DeSantis chose to follow Trump to the rural areas and suburbs, losing both, while Haley outpointed DeSantis in urban areas. He was behind every education group while Haley won the votes of those with advanced collegiate degrees. The Floridian even lost in the entrance poll to Haley among those who think convicted candidates should hold higher office. That’s because Haley was far clearer about Trump’s wrongdoings and January 6 than DeSantis, who according to NBC News, wanted to be a conservative “alternative” to Trump, without ever highlighting why we needed a conservative alternative to Trump in the first place.

DeSantis pushed “big government conservatism,” to limit the freedom of businesses like Disney and insurance companies, or the behavior of individuals when it came to transgender identity or abortion, or higher education, generally ignoring kitchen-table issues, turning off traditional Republicans and offering little difference between himself and Trump. 

He showed that if you appeal to 10% of the public, you won’t get much more in the way of votes