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Haley Rising: An Update On The Republican Presidential Primary

By Yeshaya Gedzelman

This month, we passed an important milestone in the Grand Old Party’s (GOP) primary season. Senator Tim Scott, one of GOP’s rising stars, withdrew from the race on November 13th, the sixth contestant to drop out since the campaign season began. The field of contestants is expected to lose additional contestants before voting for Iowa is held on January 15th, the first state in the primary schedule. As Republicans work to coalesce their support behind a viable alternative to Donald Trump, the pressure to drop out has mounted on the fringe contestants that are still left in the race, like Asa Hutchinson, the former Governor of Arkansas or the Governor of South Dakota, Doug Burgum. 

Since the year began, Trump has held a majority of the total vote count according to 538 and he's continued to maintain a massive lead in opinion polls over Florida Governor Ron Desantis and the rest of the remaining contestants. After August 26th, Trump’s share of the vote count never dropped below 51%. Since September 2nd of this year his share of the vote count has never dropped below 55% of the vote count. Meanwhile, Governor DeSantis, the next-closest contestant to Trump according to opinion polling, has seen support for his candidacy in the polls, regress to dangerously low levels. 

Since the start of 2023, support for Florida's Governor has been trending in the wrong direction. From September 3rd and onwards, support for DeSantis has surpassed 15% of the vote count only once (according to 538).It is unclear why DeSantis has seen his polling numbers drop, but it is clear that his campaign is in serious trouble. Once considered as being the only candidate with any real chance at beating Trump, support for DeSantis in opinion polling hasn’t exceeded 20% of the total share, since July of this year. If he wants to avoid reviving his campaign and regain momentum, he will first need to stem the bleeding from his campaign, which appears increasingly unlikely.

Although the current state of DeSantis’s campaign is defined by its downward trend, his chances are significantly greater than those languishing at the bottom of the polls. Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson is currently ranked last in opinion polling, having failed to receive 1% support or above (according to 538) for even a single day, during this past August, September and October. Like Hutchinson, North Dakota’s Governor, Doug Burgum, hasn’t managed to garner any significant support in opinion polling, failing to eclipse 2% since the start of his campaign. New Jersey’s governor from 2010-2018, Chris Christie, has only been able to achieve a slightly better showing in opinion polls, than Burgum or Hutchinson. Support for Christie has never topped 4%, and has even dropped to under 1% during his campaign.

Even more embarrassing for Hutchinson, Burgum and Christie, is the fact that they are being upstaged by a political novice, Vivek Ramaswamy. Ramaswamy is a graduate of Harvard College and Yale law school who founded a biotech firm called Roivant Sciences that helped him to amass a net worth of more than 950 million dollars according to an estimate by Forbes (as of August 2023). Despite being a relative unknown before the start of his campaign, he emerged as a dark horse candidate, with support for his campaign even exceeding the double digits for a few days in August. However, support for his campaign has largely dried up since then and  support for his campaign is now below 5% (as of November 20th, 2023).

Then there is former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, the candidate with the only real chance of overtaking DeSantis for second place in the polls. In contrast to DeSantis, Haley’s campaign is trending in the opposite direction. Since August, Haley has gradually improved her performance in opinion polling. Once polling below 5% in opinion polling for most of July and August of this year. However, the following month, this past September, support for Haley did not drop under 5% once. During the entirety of October, Haley’s showing in the polls always remained above 6% and during November, support for her campaign hasn’t dropped below 7%. Her sustained momentum and absence of political baggage (relative to her fellow candidates) have given her a real opportunity to overtake DeSantis. 

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley Portrait| Photo by Renee Ittner-McManus/Flickr

Haley’s resume is as impressive as any of the other candidates for President, featuring 6 years of public service as the Governor of South Carolina (2011-2017), six years serving in the South Carolina House of Representatives (2005-2011) and a stint as the UN Ambassador during the Trump administration. In a campaign video, she explains that her parents always reminded her and her siblings every day of “how blessed we were to live in America.” The daughter of Sikh immigrants from India, her life story is an inspiring and powerful example of the American Dream, at a time when that concept is under attack more than ever before.

Haley has steadily risen to the upper echelons of the Republican party leadership but winning the GOP primary and general election should prove to be her most difficult challenge yet. Still, she has the best chance of the top 3 candidates, to beat President Joe Biden in the general election. According to a Marquette Law School poll, Haley leads Biden in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup, with Haley at 55% and Biden at 45%. Trump leads Biden 52%- 48% and DeSantis would receive 51% to Biden’s 49%.

Haley not only performs the best in a hypothetical matchup against Biden, she also boasts the most promising ratio of the 3 candidates in favorable/unfavorable polling. According to a YouGov poll from November 18-20th, 45% of respondents viewed Trump “favorably”, with 53% viewing him “unfavorably.” A poll from Echelon Insights from November 14th-17th produced concerning results for DeSantis and Republican voters looking to dethrone Biden with only 30% of respondents viewing DeSantis “favorably” and 50% viewing him “unfavorably”. Unlike DeSantis and Trump, Haley has an even amount of voters that see her favorably (32%) and unfavorably (32%).

However, the big question for Haley over the next couple months is whether she can convince her fellow party members that she has a plausible chance to wrest control away from Trump. The former President currently holds a commanding lead in the polls with over 60% of respondents choosing him as their preferred candidate (as of November 20th, 2023). If she wants to make a compelling case that she can win the primary, she’ll need to peel away support from him and DeSantis. Trump and Haley have rarely criticized one another until now but one can expect that to change if Haley poses a significant threat to overtake him. As more candidates at the bottom of the race drop out in the months ahead, one should expect to see an increase in support for Haley. However, until she takes on the elephant in the room she’ll stay in second place.

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