Donald Trump continues to be the clear favorite to win the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
Most of his opponents – from South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott to former Vice President Mike Pence – have a game plan to slow down the Trump train: Compete closely in the first-in-the-nation Iowa Republican caucuses, which are scheduled for January 15.
The idea makes sense on its face. These candidates have to beat Trump somewhere, so why not do it in the first contest where they can change the story.
There are just a few problems with this proposition. First, Trump losing Iowa is not really a guarantee of anything for non-Trump Republicans based on history. Second, the poll suggests that the voters where Trump is most vulnerable are more numerous in the state with the second-in-the-nation competition: New Hampshire.
Republican presidential candidates are currently flocking to Iowa as they have every four to eight years in modern memory. They go to fairs, eat corn and pizza, and ask Iowans for their vote.
Many hope to raise the national front-runner in the Iowa caucuses, as Mike Huckabee (2008), Rick Santorum (2012) and Ted Cruz (2016) did in the past.
All candidates, however, went on to lose the New Hampshire primary and the party nomination.
Iowa, it turns out, isn’t very good at picking Republican nominees for president. In the first primary season since 1980 without a GOP incumbent, the winner of Iowa went on to win the nomination twice. Both times, that candidate was the national front-runner before his victory in Iowa (Bob Dole in 1996 and George W. Bush in 2000). Five other Iowa winners were not nominated.
One reason Iowa hasn’t done well in predicting the nominees is that socially conservative candidates often appeal to the state’s religiously conservative base. Religious conservatives tend to have a greater influence in the Hawkeye State compared to other states.
New Hampshire has a better track record. Republican primary voters there have chosen the final nominee in five of the seven elections since 1980 without a GOP presidential incumbent. That includes the last three primary seasons without an incumbent, while Iowa, during that same time, went 0 for 3.
Of course, 2024 will be like 1996 or 2000, when Iowa went with a future nominee while New Hampshire did not. We have a limited historical sample size.
That said, there are also some characteristics about New Hampshire Republicans that indicate they may be more open to a Trump challenger than Iowa Republicans this time around.
We’ve seen, for example, ideology play an important role in how Republicans view Trump. Polling consistently shows the former president weaker in the center of the GOP political spectrum than he is on the right — a turnaround from 2016 when Trump was the weakest among “very conservative” voters. voter.
Trump’s national poll leads Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in last month’s Quinnipiac poll, for example, dropped from 41 points among very conservatives to 31 points among moderate conservatives to 14 points among moderate and liberal potential Republican primary voters.
New Hampshire GOP primary voters are generally more moderate than their Iowa counterparts. In 2016, 40% of Iowa Republican caucusgoers described themselves as very conservative, according to entrance polls before voting began. Only 26% of New Hampshire Republican primary voters identify the same way. The percentage who call themselves moderate or liberal in New Hampshire (29%) is nearly double that in Iowa (15%).
Trump is also weaker among demographic groups that make up a larger portion of the New Hampshire Republican electorate.
Income, which was not much of a predictor of primary voting patterns in 2016, seems to play a bigger role this year.
Our latest CNN/SSRS poll found, for example, that Trump has a 27-point lead over DeSantis among potential Republican primary voters with household incomes of less than $100,000 . His lead over DeSantis among those earning $100,000 or more is only 3 points.
Although the 2016 Iowa entrance poll did not ask about income, the 2020 general election exit poll did. Among self-identified Republicans in Iowa, 26% have a total family income of $100,000 or more. Among self-identified Republicans in New Hampshire, 48% of them do.
(Note: Household and family income are slightly different measures, but I’m just showing that Republicans in New Hampshire, on the whole, are wealthier than Republicans in Iowa.)
Perhaps, it should come as no surprise that former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie seems to be the rare Republican who based his campaign in New Hampshire and not Iowa. Christie is the most anti-Trump candidate registering in the polls.
His chances of winning the nomination are slim, but he seems to have the right idea.
If Trump trips in the 2024 primary, the numbers suggest his opponents would be wiser to focus on New Hampshire than Iowa.