TURES & FLOYD COLUMN: Would Nikki Haley be a stronger candidate for the GOP in 2024?

Published 9:30 am Thursday, February 1, 2024

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With only two remaining candidates vying for the Republican Party nomination in the upcoming Presidential Election, all eyes are on Nikki Haley, former Governor of South Carolina and Ambassador to the United Nations, and former President Donald Trump. Due to his recent endorsement by South Carolina Senator Tim Scott and strong lead in GOP primary polls, Donald Trump appears to have secured his party’s nomination, but does his lead actually provide an edge in defeating Democratic incumbent President Joe Biden?

Despite former President Trump’s lead against Republican hopeful Nikki Haley, former President Trump’s chances of winning the general election against President Biden are not as strong as Haley’s. According to a poll conducted by CBS News, Haley leads against Biden by 8 points, while Trump only leads by 2. In Virginia, a poll conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University suggests that Biden leads against Trump by 3 points. In the same poll in, however, Nikki Haley leads against President Biden by 5 points. Similar results were seen in the Marist Poll in New Hampshire where President Biden led 7 points against former President Trump, but Biden trailed behind Nikki Haley by 3 points. 

Some general election and multiple state polls show Biden leading against Trump, but Haley is ahead of Biden in every general election and state poll between the two. Polling success in swing states like Virginia and New Hampshire might be attributed to Nikki Haley’s relatively moderate policies surrounding pertinent political issues such as abortion and foreign policy. Nikki Haley’s confidence in her ability to defeat incumbent President Biden is supported by her success in the polls. Before simply accepting Donald Trump as the party’s nominee, Republicans must ask themselves who the real opposition for the Oval Office is – Democrats or other Republicans?

Some political scientists believe that the American public statistically follows an ideological normal distribution model, where most voters are clumped in the middle, either independent or leaning toward one party or the other, with few extremes on the edge. Others contend we have a more partisan bimodal distribution model, where most Americans consider themselves strong Republicans or solid Democrats. More recent evidence shows that 37% of Americans as moderate, 36% as conservative, and 25% as liberal. Moderates cannot be ignored in 2024.

Entrance polls from the Iowa Caucus shows that former Governor Haley has a strong command of the ideological moderates. Evidence from CNN showed that Haley took 63% of self-described GOP moderates and Liberals in that contest. She also placed second to Trump among those who consider themselves somewhat conservative, ahead of Ron DeSantis and other Republicans in the race.

Also, Haley overperformed in the New Hampshire Primary. The pre-primary polling average from six surveys displayed by RealClearPolitics showed her only getting 36.5 percent of the vote, yet Haley took in 43.3% on Election Day, more than three standard deviations above her polling average.  You are probably thinking that her support all came from Democrats. Yet New Hampshire surveys also showed Joe Biden as a write-in candidate was close to his statistical average, along with his challengers. The average of the last three polls of New Hampshire voters indicated that President Biden was expected to get 57.66 percent of the vote. On the day of the primary, he received 55.8 percent of the vote according to CNN, close enough to the average. Haley’s sizable bump in the polls largely came from the eight percent of Republicans who were undecided in the New Hampshire surveys, a result that cannot be easily dismissed. If Republicans want someone who can appeal to moderates and outperform the polls, the evidence shows that Nikki Haley should be their choice. 

Parker Floyd, a political science student at LaGrange College assisted with this column.