Former President Donald Trump has a dominant lead over Republican rivals in Georgia despite his electoral setbacks in the state, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll that suggests his unprecedented legal peril hasn’t damaged his comeback bid.
Trump led the GOP field of presidential contenders with 57% in the poll of likely Republican voters, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis a distant second at 15%. Every other contender was mired in single digits, while 14% of the respondents were undecided.
The former president held double-digit advantages in every category of voter polled, leading with the wealthy and the poor, the highly educated and those without high school degrees, the young and the not-so-young.
In a hypothetical two-way matchup against DeSantis, Trump had an overwhelming 33-point lead. And half of Georgia Republicans say Trump is “definitely” the strongest candidate to defeat President Joe Biden next year.
“He did a good job while he was in, and I will vote for him again,” said Mark Beteag of Gwinnett County. “I’d like to get back to where Trump was before he left office. I think he was on the right track for the country.”
If there is a glimmer of hope for the other Republican contenders, it’s that one-third of Trump’s supporters said they were open to considering an alternative. On the flip side, nearly one-third of those backing another GOP hopeful said they would still consider voting for Trump.
“I’ve got a couple of candidates I’m still looking at,” said Mike Tucker, who runs a Tift County facility maintenance firm. “I voted for Trump the first go-round. But he might not even be a candidate in 2024.”
The poll of 807 likely GOP voters was conducted by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs from Aug. 16 to 23 — after Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis brought an indictment against Trump and 18 of his allies. It has a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.
Trump’s strength with the base in one of the nation’s most important political battlegrounds epitomizes the quandary for state Republicans.
While Trump’s strong polling makes him the GOP’s runaway front-runner, his struggles with independent and swing voters in the general election doomed his 2020 bid — and contributed to the defeats of his Georgia loyalists in 2021 and 2022.
What’s more, Republicans remain divided over the charges accusing Trump and his co-defendants of a complex conspiracy to overturn his 2020 defeat. About half say the charges are serious, while 44% say they aren’t serious.
And 71% say they have already made their minds up regarding whether Trump is guilty or innocent over his involvement in the mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
But a broad majority (84%) of Republicans say politics played a “big role” in indicting Trump in Atlanta. Only 5% said it didn’t factor into Willis’ decision. And two-thirds say they aren’t concerned it will make him a weaker candidate against Biden in 2024.
“The indictments are only making Trump’s case stronger. People are sick of all this. Did he do wrong? Probably,” said Misty White, a Trump supporter in Rome. “But at the end of the day, we’re concerned with our own pocketbooks, our security as a nation.”
Still, some Republicans draw the line over a conviction. Some 37% said they wouldn’t vote for a political candidate who has been convicted by a jury of a felony crime, while 41% said they would. About one-fifth of Republican voters were undecided.
“I think Trump’s legal problems are politically motivated and politically driven. They did it just to stop him,” said Tucker, the Tift County businessman. “But I think it could damage him in the end.”
Meanwhile, nearly 90% said they weren’t confident the Justice Department would handle the criminal inquiry into Hunter Biden, the president’s son, in a “fair and nonpartisan manner.”
About nine months after winning a solid reelection victory, Gov. Brian Kemp was the most popular Republican politician in the AJC poll, with a nearly 80% approval rating. Only 15% of GOP voters disapprove of his job performance, while 5% are undecided.
Count John Starr of St. Simons as one of Kemp’s fervent supporters. He voted twice for Trump but has soured on the former president after he tried to reverse the results of the 2020 election — and praised Kemp for refusing his demand for a special legislative session to overturn Biden’s victory.
“I think we owe Gov. Kemp and (Secretary of State Brad) Raffensperger a debt of gratitude for not being bullied by Donald Trump,” Starr said.
Other politicians got mixed reviews. About 44% approve of Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, a Trump-backed Republican who was elected last year to Georgia’s No. 2 spot. And 46% approve of Raffensperger, compared with one-third who somewhat or strongly disapprove of him.
Some Trump backers say they don’t have any use for any Republicans who aren’t all-in for Trump. Mark Taylor of Ben Hill County said his trucking company’s profits soared during Trump’s presidency. He called Jones, Kemp and Raffensperger “spineless” and stressed his loyalty to the former president.
“They’re just a disgrace to what the Republican Party’s all about,” Taylor said. “They’re pathetic. I don’t have anything good to say about any of the three of them.”
Staff writer David Wickert contributed to this report.