Donald Trump leads Ron DeSantis by nearly 40 percentage points in the race for the Republican presidential nomination even after declining to debate the Florida governor and other rivals, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll that closed on Friday.
The survey found that half of Republican respondents who followed the party’s first debate on Wednesday were more open to DeSantis’s bid – good news for a campaign banking on the event boosting his profile after a summer slide in opinion polls.
However, it showed DeSantis remained stuck in distant second place with 13% of support of Republican respondents while Trump, the former president, had 52%, marginally higher than the 47% he received in a Reuters/Ipsos poll in early August.
The two-day poll gathered online responses from 1,004 US adults, including 347 Republicans across the country, and had a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of about six percentage points in either direction for Republicans.
DeSantis and seven other Republican hopefuls took part in the Milwaukee debate while a pre-recorded Trump interview with conservative commentator Tucker Carlson posted simultaneously on X, formerly known as Twitter, aimed to siphon away viewers.
Trump said before the debate he saw no political benefit to taking part given his enormous lead in opinion polls, despite his indictments in four separate criminal cases.
The results of the Reuters/Ipsos poll appear to have borne that out.
While DeSantis stood centre stage in the debate, he was overshadowed for much of the raucous two-hour event by tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who clashed with former UN ambassador Nikki Haley and other candidates.
Still, about half of Republican respondents said they were more likely to support DeSantis based on what they had heard about the debate.
About four in 10 Republicans said they were more likely to back Ramaswamy or Haley based on the debate.
Many had not warmed to Ramaswamy and Haley enough, however, to say they were now backing their bids.
Only 5% of Republicans said they outright backed Ramaswamy while only 4% supported Haley, similar shares to what they had before the debate.
Former vice-president Mike Pence had 6% support from Republicans, but only one in five Republicans who followed the debate said they were now more open to supporting him.
Some 59% of the Republicans polled had followed the debate, with 19% saying they watched it live and the rest saying they had watched some clips or saw news coverage.
Forty-one per cent said they hadn’t seen or heard anything about it.
In a hypothetical match-up between President Joe Biden, a Democrat, and Trump, the larger pool of respondents, including Democrats and independents, were asked who they would pick “if the election for president were held today”.
Trump had 38% to Biden’s 32%. The rest said they weren’t sure, wouldn’t vote or would pick someone else.
On Thursday, Trump’s mugshot was released after he was booked at an Atlanta jail as part of a wide-ranging criminal case stemming from his attempts to overturn his 2020 election defeat in Georgia.
Ramaswamy walks past DeSantis during a break at the first Republican candidates’ debate of the 2024 US presidential campaign in Milwaukee.
Haley is seen on television screens at a watch party at a nightspot in Washington, DC for the first 2024 Republican presidential primary debate.