Who still likes Donald Trump? Lots of Republicans — but we looked for specifics

Trump dominates DeSantis among all Republicans — especially younger, more rural and more conservative GOP voters

Published August 20, 2023 6:00AM (EDT)

U.S. President Donald Trump gestures to supporters following a campaign rally on October 28, 2020 in Bullhead City, Arizona. (Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump gestures to supporters following a campaign rally on October 28, 2020 in Bullhead City, Arizona. (Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Despite multiple state and federal indictments, recent polling indicates that former President Donald Trump retains a commanding lead in the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

So it seems useful to understand who, exactly, supports Trump — and whether the multiple criminal indictments against the former president have had any effect on his nomination prospects.

We are a multi-university team of social scientists who have been regularly polling Americans in all 50 states since April 2020.

Our most recent survey, which ran from June 29, 2023, to Aug. 1, 2023, included 7,732 Republicans or Republican-leaning independents. We explored who, among these respondents, supports Trump in the 2024 Republican primary and how they reacted to his June 2023 indictment for withholding classified documents.

Since no other Republican candidate in our survey received more than 5% support, we focus on Trump and his nearest rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Consistent with recent polls, we found that Trump has a commanding 40-point lead over DeSantis.

While Trump leads DeSantis across nearly all major demographic categories, his advantage is especially large among Hispanic voters. The same is true when considering Republicans who said that they do not have higher education degrees and those who are very conservative, live in very rural places or are lower-income.

Rural Republicans favor Trump chart (The Conversation, CC-BY-ND / Matthew Baum / Jonathan Schulman)

Very conservative voter support

People who identified as "very conservative" comprised 14% of the Republicans in our survey. Their support for Trump in 2024 is overwhelming: They support Trump over DeSantis by a 69-12 margin.

A recent FiveThirtyEight report showed that the most conservative Republicans were not always such strong supporters of Trump, but their support has risen substantially since Trump's election in 2016.

Very conservative respondents were also the most likely to say that they were sure about which 2024 candidate they support. Just 5% of this group said they had not yet made up their mind, relative to 19% of moderate Republicans who were unsure who they would vote for.

Younger support

Despite the 77-year-old Trump being more than three decades older than DeSantis, he enjoys significantly higher levels of support among younger Republicans.

About 53% of Republicans ages 25 to 44 said they support Trump, while just 9% of these people said they would vote for DeSantis. And 48% of even younger Republicans, ages 18 to 24, preferred Trump, as compared with 7% who support DeSantis.

We need your help to stay independent

In contrast, the gap between the two candidates is smaller among Republicans ages 65 and older. While 53% of this group supports Trump, 14% said they prefer DeSantis.

That said, Republicans ages 18 to 24 were significantly more likely than people in other age groups to select a candidate other than Trump or DeSantis, or to say they were not sure who they would vote for if the election were held today.

Hispanic and white voters

Trump has a large advantage over DeSantis across all racial and ethnic groups we surveyed, but especially among Hispanic and white Republicans.

We found that Trump has a 45-point advantage over DeSantis among Hispanic Republicans, who are more likely to support him than any other racial and ethnic group we investigated.

About 52% of white Republican people we polled, meanwhile, said that they support Trump, compared with 12.1% who preferred DeSantis. The gap in preference for Trump over DeSantis among other ethnic groups, including Asian Americans and Black people, was smaller.

Ethnic Background of Republicans supporting Trump V DeSantis chart (The Conversation, CC-BY-ND / Matthew Baum / Jonathan Schulman)

No geographic or socioeconomic boundary

Trump has a commanding lead over DeSantis across all geographic areas, but his lead is particularly strong among Republicans in very rural communities.

Hispanic Republican voters were more likely to support Trump than members of any other racial or ethnic group.

Trump enjoys a massive 51-point lead over DeSantis among those who describe the area in which they live as "very rural." Trump's vote share among rural Americans increased from 2016 to 2020 and remains a strong base of his support leading into the 2024 primary.

Trump also holds a large lead over DeSantis regardless of socioeconomic status, but the gap widens among lower-income and less-educated Republicans.

Among Republicans with a college or graduate degree, for example, Trump led DeSantis by a 45-15 margin, which jumped up to 55-9 among those without a college degree. Trump holds a 47-point advantage among white respondents without a college degree, which shrinks to 29 points for white respondents with college degrees.

Trump's legal woes aren't a deciding factor

We randomly embedded an experiment into our survey in which we asked a series of questions about Trump's recent indictment in the Mar-a-Lago classified document case before or after asking Republicans their preferred 2024 candidate.

Our goal was to test whether prompting them to think about the indictment affected respondents' support for Trump.

Trump's indictment has given some Republican voters pause, but this concern is not leading them to support DeSantis.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

Republicans who saw Trump's indictment as justified were significantly less likely to support Trump in the 2024 primary, but they were not more likely to support DeSantis as a result.

The effect of answering questions about Trump's indictment immediately before, rather than after, asking about preferences for the 2024 primary was strongest among self-identified moderate Republicans, who make up 29% of the Republicans in our survey.

Among those moderate Republicans, answering questions about Trump's indictment before the 2024 Republican primary candidate preference question decreased support for Trump by six percentage points.

Among moderate Republicans, answering questions about Trump's indictment decreased his support by six points.

Among the 18% of Republicans who felt that Trump's indictment was justified, only 10% reported supporting DeSantis in 2024, compared with 25% who still backed Trump.

For conservative and very conservative Republicans, however, being prompted to think about Trump's indictment immediately before answering the 2024 candidate preference question increased support for Trump by three percentage points.

This lends credence to the idea some Republicans have articulated that indictments could benefit Trump, but only among the most conservative Republicans.

The bigger picture

Our survey results show Donald Trump with a commanding advantage over the field at this stage of the race for the 2024 Republican Party nomination.

That said, Trump's support is not uniform across all Republicans — it is, for instance, notably higher among Republicans who identify with some of these characteristics: being less wealthy or educated, rural, older, Hispanic or white, or very conservative.

Moderate Republicans' shift away from Trump after we reminded them about the classified documents indictment raises the possibility that additional indictments — such as the second one the Justice Department announced on Aug. 2, 2023, regarding attempts to overturn the 2020 election results — could negatively affect Trump's campaign for the Republican nomination, particularly among moderate voters.

Of course, our findings also suggest that Trump's indictments may further invigorate his ideologically conservative base.

Overall, potential indictment effects notwithstanding, our findings represent a picture of overwhelming domination by Trump across virtually all facets of the Republican Party.The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

By Jonathan Schulman

Jonathan Schulman is a PhD candidate in political science at Northwestern University.

MORE FROM Jonathan Schulman

By Matthew A. Baum

Matthew A. Baum is the Marvin Kalb Professor of Global Communications and professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. His research has appeared in over a dozen leading scholarly journals. His most recent book is "War and Democratic Constraint: How the Public Influences Foreign Policy."

MORE FROM Matthew A. Baum