If Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis defeats former President Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, he may have a harder time winning the general election than his supporters expect, according to the latest Yahoo News/YouGov poll.
The new survey shows that more Americans oppose than favor seven out of eight signature policies put forward by DeSantis in Florida, with support ranging from 36% (for requiring public school books to be reviewed for content “the government deems inappropriate”) to a low of 21% (for “granting political appointees the power to fire tenured faculty members at public colleges and universities at any time and for any reason”).
On foreign policy, meanwhile, DeSantis doesn’t fare much better.
“While the U.S. has many vital national interests,” the Florida governor said in a statement last week, “becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them.” Yet by a nearly 2-1 margin, Americans consider the conflict an “invasion of Ukraine by Russia” (56%) rather than a “territorial dispute” (30%) — and less than a third (32%) think “the conflict is none of America’s business.”
The poll of 1,582 U.S. adults, which was conducted from March 16 to 20, suggests a bumpy road ahead for DeSantis after he launches his widely expected presidential campaign later this spring. For now, he trails Trump 39% to 47% in a one-on-one primary matchup among registered voters who are Republicans or Republican-leaning independents, down from his 45% to 41% lead in early February. DeSantis (32%) lags even further behind Trump (47%) in a field that includes former Vice President Mike Pence (5%) and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley (6%).
One bright spot for DeSantis, however, has been the consistent perception that Trump would be a weak general-election candidate. Asked if they consider Trump “the Republican Party’s strongest nominee for president in 2024,” just 32% of Americans (and 28% of independents) say yes, while 44% of Americans (and 48% of independents) say no.
Registered voters seem to confirm this dynamic, with 50% saying they’re open to voting for DeSantis (vs. 37% who say they “will definitely not”) and 48% saying they’re open to voting for Trump (vs. 43% who say they will definitely not). Head-to-head against President Biden, Trump currently trails 43% to 45% among registered voters; in a similar matchup, DeSantis and Biden are tied at 43%.
Yet most of DeSantis’s high-profile positions — which he currently touts in appearances before conservative audiences, and which Democrats would inevitably seek to weaponize in a general election contest — attract more opposition than support, spelling potential trouble ahead.
Here are the eight DeSantis policies tested in the poll — without attribution to DeSantis — along with their favor/oppose numbers among all Americans:
Banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy (including for victims of rape and incest who can’t provide official documentation of the crime, such as a police report): 34% favor, 50% oppose.
Banning public colleges and universities from funding campus activities or programs that promote diversity, equity and inclusion: 32% favor, 48% oppose.
Allowing people to carry a concealed firearm without a license or safety training: 22% favor, 66% oppose.
Banning majors or minors in critical race theory, gender studies or intersectionality at public colleges and universities: 35% favor, 43% oppose.
Requiring all books available to children in public schools, including those selected by their teachers, to be separately reviewed by a media specialist (like a school librarian) for content the government deems inappropriate: 36% favor, 44% oppose.
Permanently banning schools and businesses from imposing COVID-19 mask or vaccine requirements: 35% favor, 46% oppose.
Granting political appointees the power to fire tenured faculty members at public colleges and universities at any time and for any reason: 21% favor, 55% oppose.
Banning transgender female athletes from playing on women’s and girls’ teams at public schools: 52% favor, 31% oppose.
Only the last proposal (banning transgender female athletes) is more popular than unpopular.
Following this policy test, Yahoo News and YouGov told respondents that “all of the proposals from the previous question have been put forward or signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis” and again asked, “If DeSantis is the Republican presidential nominee in 2024, which of the following best describes your chances of voting for him in the general election?”
Among registered voters, the number who said they “will definitely not” vote for DeSantis went up 3 points (to 40%), while the number who said they “will definitely” vote for him fell by the same amount (to 29%) — putting DeSantis more on par with Trump in terms of electability.
Not all of DeSantis’s culture war positions — which he has been emphasizing in order to build his brand among the Republican base — are as unpopular as the seven tested above.
Elsewhere in the survey, Yahoo News and YouGov asked a detailed question about gender-affirming care, which DeSantis has restricted in Florida. The question reads as follows: “A number of states have banned ‘gender affirming’ care for transgender minors, which includes counseling and sometimes hormone therapy or puberty blockers. While the American Academy of Pediatrics supports this type of treatment, critics claim it’s dangerous for young people. Do you favor or oppose Americans under 18 having access to gender affirming care?”
In response, more U.S. adults say they oppose (46%) rather than favor (34%) access to such care for minors.
If DeSantis survives the GOP primary, he would probably reframe his most divisive stances in friendlier “pro-family” terms while also emphasizing his other, more mainstream policies (such as teacher pay raises and environmental protection). He has successfully pivoted before.
But for now, the Yahoo News/YouGov poll illustrates some of the risks of trying to outflank Trump on the right. On the question of Ukraine, for instance, more voters agree (45%) than disagree (41%) with the statement DeSantis made (without his name attached) that “while the U.S. has many vital national interests … a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them.”
Yet that slim, 4-point margin pales in comparison to the 40-point margin (65% agree, 25% disagree) for the following (unattributed) statement from Pence: “This is not America’s war, but if Putin is not stopped and the sovereign nation of Ukraine is not restored quickly, he will continue to move toward our NATO allies.”
And neither approaches the 50-point margin (70% agree, 20% disagree) for the following (unattributed) statement from former Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney: “The Ukrainian people are fighting for their freedom. Surrendering to Putin and refusing to defend freedom makes America less safe.”
Last week Cheney said that DeSantis’s position on Ukraine displayed “weakness.” Voters seem to agree. A far greater number think “ending aid to Ukraine” is more of a weak (50%) than a strong (30%) position — while an even larger number think “providing substantial aid to Ukraine” is more of a strong (59%) than a weak (20%) position.
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,582 U.S. adults interviewed online from March 16 to 20, 2023. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (32% Democratic, 27% Republican). Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.7%.
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