If any question remains about whether former president Donald Trump or Nikki Haley will skate to the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, it could well be answered on Jan. 23 in New Hampshire.
Critical Primary in New Hampshire
That’s when the one early state that looks somewhat close will hold its primary. As I wrote in my new newsletter, The Campaign Moment on Monday (sign up here), it all comes down to whether Nikki Haley can keep it close or, better yet for her, win. At that point she would hope to recast the rest of the nominating contest.
Divergent Poll Results
Two new polls released Tuesday morning tell pretty different tales about how likely New Hampshire is to assist her. A CNN-University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll showed Haley creeping to within single digits of Trump, 39 percent to 32 percent. A Boston Globe-USA Today-Suffolk University poll, meanwhile, showed she trails by 20 points, 46-26.
So which might be closer to the mark? And what do they suggest about what lies ahead?
The first thing to note is that both polls show Haley gaining. The CNN poll has Haley shrinking her deficit from 22 percentage points in November to seven points today. The Suffolk poll has her shrinking it from 30 points in late September to 20 points today.
Trump’s Softening Support
The CNN poll has long indicated that Trump’s support in New Hampshire is softer than what other polls have shown, so its tightening looks more pronounced according to Barron’s.
Key Differences in the Polls
Beyond that, there are a couple of key differences in the CNN and Suffolk polls.
One difference is in voters who aren’t registered Republicans — a vital demographic that Nikki Haley needs to own, given Trump’s huge advantage among registered Republicans. While the CNN poll shows Haley leading among them by 26 points (43-17), the Suffolk poll shows her lead at just half that (36-23).
The biggest difference, though, is education. While the CNN poll has Haley trailing by just 15 points (46-31) among voters with a high school education or less, the Suffolk poll shows Trump with a massive 70-point lead (80-10) among those voters.
Potential Significance of Education Divide
This is significant because Trump often excels with less formally educated voters. It’s difficult to compare New Hampshire to other states or the national polls given its unusual electorate. But if Haley is keeping it as close with these voters as the CNN poll suggests, that would be remarkable. (And they are a large chunk of the poll, accounting for 37 percent of the sample.)
Positive Signs for Haley
To the extent that the Wall Street Journal poll does reflect reality, it could be particularly heartening for Nikki Haley.
In addition to showing her trimming her deficit to single digits, the poll also indicates that both she and former. New Jersey governor Chris Christie (12 percent) together have more votes than Trump. It’s the first high-quality poll to make such a finding.
Potential Impact of Other Contenders
Trump could also benefit if Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) or Vivek Ramaswamy don’t make it to New Hampshire, given how much their bases overlap with his. DeSantis has become somewhat of a nonfactor in New Hampshire. He garnered just 8 percent in the Suffolk poll and 5 percent in the CNN poll, which places him in fifth place behind Ramaswamy. And it’s plausible that their voters wouldn’t go as strongly for Trump as Christie’s would go for Haley. This is especially true, given that these are voters who have so far declined to back the presumptive nominee.
Decisive Role of New Hampshire
What’s clear from the new polls is that while Iowa’s caucuses are next week, New Hampshire the following week is the ballgame, at least in the first two states. How competitive that ballgame will be — and whether Haley could actually reshape the race if she gets the outcome she needs — is to be determined.