As Donald J. Trump weighs whether to open an unusually early White House campaign, a New York Times/Siena College poll shows that his post-presidential quest to consolidate his support within the Republican Party has instead left him weakened, with nearly half the party’s primary voters seeking someone different for president in 2024 and a significant number vowing to abandon him if he wins the nomination.
By focusing on political payback inside his party instead of tending to wounds opened by his alarming attempts to cling to power after his 2020 defeat, Mr. Trump appears to have only deepened fault lines among Republicans during his yearlong revenge tour. A clear majority of primary voters under 35 years old, 64 percent, as well as 65 percent of those with at least a college degree — a leading indicator of political preferences inside the donor class — told pollsters they would vote against Mr. Trump in a presidential primary.
Mr. Trump’s conduct on Jan. 6, 2021, appears to have contributed to the decline in his standing, including among a small but important segment of Republicans who could form the base of his opposition in a potential primary contest. While 75 percent of primary voters said Mr. Trump was “just exercising his right to contest the election,” nearly one in five said he “went so far that he threatened American democracy.”
Overall, Mr. Trump maintains his primacy in the party: In a hypothetical matchup against five other potential Republican presidential rivals, 49 percent of primary voters said they would support him for a third nomination.
The greatest threat to usurp Mr. Trump within the party is Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who was the second choice with 25 percent and the only other contender with double-digit support. Among primary voters, Mr. DeSantis was the top choice of younger Republicans, those with a college degree and those who said they voted for President Biden in 2020.
While about one-fourth of Republicans said they didn’t know enough to have an opinion about Mr. DeSantis, he was well-liked by those who did. Among those who voted for Mr. Trump in 2020, 44 percent said they had a very favorable opinion of Mr. DeSantis — similar to the 46 percent who said the same about Mr. Trump.
Should Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Trump face off in a primary, the poll suggested that support from Fox News could prove crucial: Mr. Trump held a 62 percent to 26 percent advantage over Mr. DeSantis among Fox News viewers, while the gap between the two Floridians was 16 points closer among Republicans who mainly receive their news from another source.
The survey suggests that Mr. Trump would not necessarily enter a primary with an insurmountable advantage over rivals like Mr. DeSantis. His share of the Republican primary electorate is less than Hillary Clinton’s among Democrats was at the outset of the 2016 race, when she was viewed as the inevitable front-runner, but ultimately found herself embroiled in a protracted primary against Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Mr. Trump’s troubles inside his party leave him hamstrung in a matchup against an unusually vulnerable incumbent.
The Times/Siena poll suggested that the fears of many Republican elites about a Trump candidacy may be well-founded: He trailed President Biden, 44 percent to 41 percent, in a hypothetical rematch of the 2020 contest, despite plummeting support for Mr. Biden, with voters nationwide giving him a perilously low 33 percent job-approval rating.
A growing anyone-but-Trump vote inside the party contributed to Mr. Trump’s deficit, with 16 percent of Republicans saying that if he were the nominee they would support Mr. Biden, would back a third-party candidate, wouldn’t vote at all or remained unsure what they would do. That compared to 8 percent of Democrats who said they would similarly abandon Mr. Biden in a matchup with Mr. Trump.
Donald Trump, Post-Presidency
The former president remains a potent force in Republican politics.
For Mr. Trump, bleeding that amount of Republican support would represent a sharp increase compared with the already troubling level of the party’s vote he shed during his last race.
In 2020, 9 percent of Republicans voted for someone other than Mr. Trump, while Mr. Biden lost just 4 percent of Democrats, according to AP VoteCast, a large study of the 2020 electorate by NORC at the University of Chicago for The Associated Press.
Kenneth Abreu, a 62-year-old pharmaceutical executive from Pennsylvania, said he had voted Republican for three decades but would support Mr. Biden instead of voting again for Mr. Trump.
“Unlike all these other people who believe every word he says, I’m done,” Mr. Abreu said. “All the garbage he’s been talking about, the lies, Jan. 6, the whole thing — I just lost all respect for him.”
Still, many Republicans who favor someone else in a primary would nonetheless rally behind Mr. Trump if he won the nomination.
Richard Bechtol, a 31-year-old Republican voter in Columbus, Ohio, said he would back either Mr. DeSantis or Senator Ted Cruz of Texas over the former president. Mr. Bechtol was disturbed by Mr. Trump’s behavior that led to the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.
“I hope he doesn’t run at all,” Mr. Bechtol said of the former president.
Mr. Bechtol, a lawyer, said he found Mr. Trump’s arrogance off-putting, saw Mr. Trump as a divisive figure in the party and believed that he bore responsibility for the violence.
But he said he would support Mr. Trump in 2024 in a rematch with President Biden.
“Biden is getting bullied by the left wing of his party and I worry about his cognitive function as well — actually, I worry about that with Trump, too,” he said. “It’s really a lesser-of-two-evils situation for me.”
It is too early to tell whether the challenges for Mr. Trump inside his party will result in anything more than speed bumps on his path to the Republican nomination. Underscoring his residual strength, he is viewed favorably by 65 percent of Republicans who said they would vote against him in a primary, compared with 33 percent who said they had an unfavorable view.
“Trump did a hell of a job on the economy,” said Marie Boyce, a New York Republican in her 70s. “There isn’t anything wrong I could say about him.”
David Beard, a 69-year-old retiree in Liberal, Mo., who said he mostly relied on Social Security for his income, said he was frustrated with both political parties and all levels of government. He plans to stick with Mr. Trump in 2024, betting that was the best chance to improve the economy.
“When Trump was in office, it didn’t seem like prices went haywire,” Mr. Beard said.
He said Democrats’ efforts to hold Mr. Trump accountable for the Jan. 6 attack had been a pointless distraction. “The government’s whole focus should have been on the people of the United States and the situation we’re in, instead of wasting time and money trying to impeach him,” Mr. Beard said. “Nothing is being done to help the people, and I believe that with all my heart.”
About 20 percent of all registered voters said they didn’t like either Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden. Mr. Trump also trailed his successor among these voters, 39 percent to 18 percent. One in five volunteered to pollsters that they would sit out such an election, though that option had not been offered to them.
“I never thought I would say this, but it if was Biden and Trump I don’t think I would vote,” said Gretchen Aultman, a 74-year-old retired lawyer in Colorado who voted for Mr. Trump in 2016. “I liked Trump’s policies, but he was so abrasive and unpolished, and having him as president was just tearing the country apart.”
Ms. Aultman said she didn’t see the current president as an acceptable alternative. “I can’t in good conscience vote for Biden,” she said. “I recognize the signs of being old, and his mental acuity is not going to last another two years.”
Between the large number of primary voters ready for another nominee, and the growing number who say they would not vote for the former president again under any circumstances, the poll suggests Mr. Trump’s biggest hurdle to winning a second term isn’t another Republican opponent — it’s himself.
John Heaphy, a 70-year-old retired software engineer in Arizona, said he voted for Mr. Trump in 2020 but planned to back Mr. Biden in 2024 because of the Capitol riot.
Mr. Heaphy said that Mr. Trump had incited an insurrection, and that he was shaken by the support the former president’s false claims have received from other Republicans. Indeed, according to the poll, 86 percent of Republicans who said they would support Mr. Trump in the 2024 primary said he was the legitimate winner of the 2020 election.
“Trump lost the election,” Mr. Heaphy said. “There are too many people out there that just don’t seem like they believe in reality anymore.”
While Mr. Trump has described election integrity as the country’s most pressing concern, just 3 percent of Republicans named it as the nation’s top problem. But Mr. Trump’s response to his 2020 defeat was a significant factor in how Republicans are thinking about 2024.
Among Republicans who said they plan to vote against Mr. Trump in a primary, 32 percent said the former president’s actions threatened American democracy.
Paula Hudnall, a 51-year-old nurse in Charleston, W.Va., said Mr. Trump was right to question the results of the election. She said she didn’t blame him for the violence at the Capitol.
“Anytime you have a large gathering you’re going to have people who get out of hand and are unruly,” said Ms. Hudnall, who identified the economy and infrastructure as her top issues.
Ms. Hudnall said she was interested in learning about other Republican candidates, but that Mr. Trump already had her vote again for 2024.
The Times/Siena survey of 849 registered voters nationwide was conducted by telephone using live operators from July 5 to 7. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points. Cross-tabs and methodology are available here.
Isabella Grullón Paz and Nate Cohn contributed reporting.