GOP voters pick DeSantis over Trump in hypothetical head-to-head matchup for 2024 presidential nomination, poll shows

Key Points
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis comes out ahead in a hypothetical one-on-one matchup against former President Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican nomination, GOP voters said in a new poll.
  • Trump, who lost to President Joe Biden in 2020, is still a main contender for the 2024 race, Monmouth University's survey showed.
  • Candidates who might enter the race — like former Vice President Mike Pence, ex-U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — got much less support.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speak at midterm election rallies, in Dayton, Ohio, U.S. November 7, 2022 and Tampa, Florida, U.S., November 8, 2022 in a combination of file photos. 
Gaelen Morse | Reuters

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis would beat former President Donald Trump in a hypothetical one-on-one matchup for the 2024 Republican nomination, GOP voters said in a new poll released Thursday.

DeSantis, who easily won reelection in the November midterms, is widely considered Trump's main competition in the GOP's race for the White House, even as he has yet to announce any plans for a presidential bid.

That hype was echoed in the survey from Monmouth University: In a hypothetical head-to-head fight, 53% of Republican voters said they would pick DeSantis, versus 40% for Trump.

DeSantis comes out on top among nearly every major voting bloc in the party, Monmouth found, with the exception of respondents earning less than $50,000 a year and those age 65 or older.

The poll of 566 Republican and GOP-leaning U.S. voters was conducted by phone between Jan. 26 and Feb. 2, and has a margin of error of 6.1 percentage points.

But Trump is still a main contender when pitted against a broader field of potential Republican rivals. When asked who they wanted to see as the 2024 Republican nominee, GOP voters were torn between DeSantis and Trump, with each figure garnering the support of 33% of respondents. Former Vice President Mike Pence got 2% support, while others, including Nikki Haley, a former U.S. envoy to the United Nations; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz; and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, garnered just 1% support.

That is a welcome development for Trump, who had appeared to be trailing DeSantis by a 13-point margin, 39% to 26% when Monmouth asked the same question in December.

"An overwhelming majority of polls show President Trump with significant and dominant leads both nationally and statewide," Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said in a statement to CNBC. "There is no one else who can generate enthusiasm and excitement like President Trump, which is why he has support from top elected officials and grassroots leaders."

Cheung also pointed to a series of other recent poll results showing Trump leading the prospective GOP field by double digits. DeSantis' office did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

"Both Trump and DeSantis are well liked by the party's rank and file, but it's likely that voter opinion of Trump is more firmly set than it is for DeSantis right now," said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, in a press release. "The unknown factor is whether DeSantis can maintain this early edge if and when he gets on the campaign trail."

Trump still holds major sway over the Republican Party, more than two years after losing his reelection bid to President Joe Biden. But his critics, including some vocal Republicans, say his grasp on the party has weakened considerably since leaving the White House and being impeached for the second time after his lies about a "rigged" 2020 election spurred some of his supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Those grumblings only grew louder after many of his handpicked candidates flopped in the November midterms, helping Democrats expand their majority in the Senate. In contrast, DeSantis crushed his Democratic rival, former Rep. Charlie Crist, by nearly 20 percentage points in the Florida gubernatorial contest.

For nearly three months, Trump has been the only major candidate officially running for president. But Haley is expected to throw her hat in the ring next week, and news outlets report Biden will soon make a decision on whether he will seek a second term in office.

Trump has accordingly started firing off more direct salvos against some of his potential Republican rivals. He recently lashed out at DeSantis as a "RINO GLOBALIST," meaning Republican in name only, and attacked his decision-making during the coronavirus pandemic.