A poll released Thursday of Iowa voters found that, among Republicans, former president Donald Trump maintains a dominant lead in the days ahead of the caucuses. But it is the first to find former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley opening up a clear lead over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The Suffolk University poll of 500 likely caucus-goers finds 54 percent saying Trump is their first choice, followed by Haley at 20 percent, DeSantis at 13 percent and Vivek Ramaswamy at 6 percent.
Polls in the state last month found DeSantis about even or ahead of Haley among. Nearly all have found Trump leading with over 50 percent support.
In the Suffolk poll, Haley’s support rises to 28 percent among independents and to 42 percent among moderate and liberal likely caucus-goers, the only group where any candidate leads Trump (who received 31 percent support with this group). However, these voters make up a small share of the Iowa electorate: 15 percent of Iowa Republican caucus-goers in 2016 identified as moderate or liberal, the lowest in any caucus or primary exit poll that year.
DeSantis has tried to appeal to strong conservatives in Iowa, yet Trump dominates among this segment of the electorate. Seventy percent of “very conservative” voters back the former president compared with 14 percent for DeSantis and 11 percent for Haley.
Haley is even better positioned for New Hampshire’s Jan. 23 primary, and a strong performance in Iowa could help her mount a challenge to Trump in the Granite State. A USA Today-Boston Globe-Suffolk poll this week found 26 percent of likely primary voters in New Hampshire supporting Haley, while a CNN-UNH poll found Haley with 32 percent support there. Trump’s support was 39 percent in the CNN-UNH poll and 46 percent in the USA Today-Boston Globe-Suffolk poll.
Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s withdrawal from the race Wednesday could also help Haley, particularly among moderate voters. In New Hampshire, Christie received 12 percent support in the polls mentioned above, including roughly a quarter of moderate primary voters. Haley led among moderates in both polls.
Despite a few positive patterns for Haley, Trump remains the heavy favorite to win the GOP presidential nomination, with about 6 in 10 Republicans nationwide supporting him for the party’s nomination, according to a Post average of public polls.