UGA poll: Trump remains clear favorite among likely GOP voters in Georgia

Former President Donald Trump throws hats as he enters the stage during a March 2022 rally for Georgia GOP candidates at Banks County Dragway in Commerce. A new University of Georgia poll of Republican voters shows Trump with 51% support from respondents to lead a field of possible GOP presidential candidates in 2024. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis placed second at 30%, making him the only other potential hopeful to finish in double digits. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Former President Donald Trump throws hats as he enters the stage during a March 2022 rally for Georgia GOP candidates at Banks County Dragway in Commerce. A new University of Georgia poll of Republican voters shows Trump with 51% support from respondents to lead a field of possible GOP presidential candidates in 2024. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis placed second at 30%, making him the only other potential hopeful to finish in double digits. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Donald Trump has a roughly 20-point lead over his closest Republican rival in a poll of likely Georgia GOP voters, a sign of the former president’s enduring popularity in a state where he suffered some of his most humbling electoral defeats.

Trump led the field with 51%, followed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to enter the race within months, at 30%. Every other Republican contender lagged in the single digits. Only 7% of respondents were undecided.

Trump is the clear favorite among almost all blocs of Republican voters at this early stage in his comeback bid, scoring some of the heftiest advantages among the party’s most conservative voters, and those who are older, poorer and have lower levels of education.

His strong showing comes after his indictment in New York on charges of falsifying business records. Nearly 90% of Georgia Republicans say the criminal charges should not disqualify him from seeking office again, compared with 7% who say they should. Trump is also at the center of an ongoing probe in Fulton County that could result in criminal charges.

DeSantis was competitive only among smaller slices of voters, including younger Republicans and those with annual incomes that topped $100,000. Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley nabbed just 4% support. Ex-Vice President Mike Pence was at 2%.

In a hypothetical head-to-head matchup, DeSantis fared slightly better. He trailed Trump 51% to 41%, with about 8% of respondents undecided. The Florida governor fared best among Republicans with college or graduate degrees.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis fared best in a University of Georgia poll of Republican voters on potential presidential candidates with those younger members of the party and those with annual incomes that topped $100,000. Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

Still, the poll pointed to misgivings toward Trump that could dog his comeback bid. While 85% of Republican voters say they’ll back Trump if he’s the nominee, 6% say they’ll cast their ballot for a Democrat, 3% will side with a third-party candidate and 2% will skip the vote altogether.

The poll was conducted April 2-7 and 10-13 by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs, and it involved 983 likely Republican primary voters. The margin of error is 3.1 percentage points.

While the school conducts polls for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the news organization did not commission this survey.

The poll’s results showed Trump’s continued sway over Georgia Republican voters despite major setbacks in the state — and a desire by influential activists and elected officials to back an alternative without the political and legal baggage that Trump carries.

Trump’s narrow 2020 defeat to Joe Biden made him the first Republican nominee to lose Georgia since 1992. His campaign to oust Gov. Brian Kemp, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and other Republican incumbents in last year’s elections ended in humiliating defeats for Trump-backed challengers.

Herschel Walker, recruited by Trump to run for the U.S. Senate last year, lost after a disastrous campaign. And Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is considering whether to seek criminal charges against Trump over his attempt to overturn his Georgia loss.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is considering whether to seek criminal charges against former President Donald Trump, still a favorite with Georgia Republicans, over his attempt to overturn his loss in Georgia's 2020 presidential election. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

Kemp, whose approval ratings notched a new high after winning a second term in 2022, was not included in the poll. He has ruled out a 2024 run for president, though he’s sought other ways to influence the White House race.

The poll found that DeSantis is the preferred second choice for a plurality of likely Georgia GOP voters, with 37% saying they’d back him. About 17% of respondents viewed Trump as their second choice, while 10% picked Haley as their backup, and 7% chose Pence.

Both DeSantis and Trump scored highly with Georgia Republicans, each notching favorability ratings among 80%. Trump had slightly higher negative ratings than DeSantis, with 18% of Republicans giving him an unfavorable review compared with 12% for the Florida governor.

About 60% of likely GOP voters say they have favorable opinions of Haley and Pence, while U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, who entered the race this week, has a 45% positive rating. An additional 43% of Georgia GOP voters say they don’t know enough about the South Carolina lawmaker to form an opinion.

Republican voters were more divided over their top priorities for their presidential nominee. About one-third say it’s most important to approve a candidate who can beat Biden in 2024, while 46% say they want someone who shares their stances on major issues. Roughly 20% of GOP voters value both equally.

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