Nikki Haley Moves Into Second In Final Iowa Poll, Trump Still Reigns

Haley is surging, but Trump is still projected to win the nation's first presidential nominating contest.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley spoke to voters in Davenport, Iowa, on Saturday, two days from the state's first-in-the-nation caucuses.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley spoke to voters in Davenport, Iowa, on Saturday, two days from the state's first-in-the-nation caucuses.
Win McNamee via Getty Images

DAVENPORT, Iowa — Nikki Haley rose into second place in a final Iowa poll while former President Donald Trump’s support among likely caucus-goers still makes him the overwhelming favorite to win the GOP’s first presidential nominating contest on Monday.

The poll reinforced Trump’s projected strength in Iowa, while also underscoring Haley’s slow consolidation of the GOP field and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ stagnation despite investing the bulk of his resources here. Trump was the polling leader at 48%, with Haley at 20% and DeSantis slipping into third place at 16%.

Haley was up 4 percentage points from December’s Des Moines Register Iowa Poll, underscoring her momentum in the race following five GOP debates. Both Trump and DeSantis, meanwhile, were down 3 points during the same period.

“I think Joe Biden is an idiot and she exposed all of the flaws in their mentality,” said Glen Schwab, a 61-year-old from Davenport, Iowa, who is committed to caucusing for Haley and came to hear her speak at an event in Davenport Saturday despite blizzard conditions that made many Iowa roads nearly impassable. “I just want Joe Biden out of office … I think she can bring Americans together again,” he said.

“She just seems very moderate. She’s very pragmatic. She didn’t grow up wanting to be a politician. She’s just somebody that wants to go help solve problems,” Iowa Sen. Chris Cournoyer, one of Haley’s endorsers, told HuffPost.

The pollster, however, cautioned that Haley’s support was “on shaky ground” due to her smaller share of enthusiastic voters than Trump, the Des Moines Register reported. Roughly half of the people who plan to caucus for Trump say they’re “extremely” enthusiastic about doing so, while that percentage is only at 9% for Haley.

Half of her support also comes from outside the GOP — 39% of her supporters identify as independents and 11% say they’re Democrats, per the survey.

Iowa’s severe winter weather could also significantly dampen turnout on Monday, with temperatures expected to remain below zero through Tuesday. Both Haley’s and DeSantis’ closing messages were reminding voters to bundle up and brave the weather so they could vote.

“It’s gonna be cold. It’s gonna be real cold,” Haley told a crowd of more than 50 people in Davenport. “You set the tone of where the rest of the country needs to go. You know what you need to do and I know that you’ll do it.”

The Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom Iowa Poll, conducted by Iowa pollster Ann Selzer & Co., is the final snapshot of the race before caucus day. Selzer’s results were based on 705 likely caucus-goers surveyed via phone from Jan. 7-12, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

Last month’s Iowa Poll had 51% of likely caucus-goers picking Trump as their first choice for the GOP nomination. DeSantis registered at 19% and Haley 16%, while no other candidate topped 5% in last month’s poll.

The final Iowa Poll of 2016 had Trump leading Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, 28% to 23%. But Trump skipped the final pre-caucus Fox News debate and Cruz wound up beating Trump for first place, 28% to 24%. Selzer had cautioned then, however, that despite the top line, Cruz’s strength was evident in the poll’s other data points.

Even in the final stretch of the caucuses, 25% of the people surveyed said they could still be persuaded to change their expected votes, while 7% said they didn’t have a first choice.

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