Was the CNN/UNH poll showing Nikki Haley within striking distance of Donald Trump an outlier? Two new polls released Thursday are pointing that way.
The UNH Survey Center created a tidal wave of headlines Tuesday when its poll put the spread between Trump and Haley at just seven points — 39 to 32 percent. And that was before Chris Christie dropped out of the race.
“New polls today show Nikki is SURGING and within SEVEN POINTS of Donald Trump in NH,” Gov. Chris Sununu posted on social media. “In this two-person race, she’s the only candidate with the momentum to move us past the chaos and drama of Donald Trump.”
But another poll released that same day from Suffolk University pollster David Paleologos put the race more in line with previous polling: Trump solid at 46 percent, Haley rising, but with just 26 percent support. (Both polls had Chris Christie at 12 percent)
The St. Anselm College Survey Center reported Trump at 45 percent and Haley at 31 percent. Christie was at nine percent, and DeSantis at six percent. Emerson had Trump at 44 percent and Haley at 28 percent, with Christie at 12 percent.
“Haley’s momentum appears to have slowed,” observed New Hampshire Institute of Politics Executive Director Neil Levesque, noting that her 31 percent is “up just a single point from the Survey Center’s last poll in December.”
Trump holding fast in the mid-forties, Haley flat at around 30 percent — that has been the trend for weeks. But it’s one that could break now that Chris Christie has dropped out of the primary and his voters are looking for a new candidate.
Haley hopes she’s their next choice, and there’s some data to back that up. “Among the 12 percent of Chris Christie’s supporters, 52 percent name Nikki Haley as their second choice,” says Emerson College Director of Polling Spencer Kimball. “Another 12 percent say Hutchinson, 10 percent DeSantis and 2 percent Trump.”
Still, Trump’s double-digit lead remains. If Haley is to have any hope of making this a real race for the nomination and not just a campaign to beat expectations, she needs to win an early state. Iowa is extremely unlikely, and she currently trails in South Carolina by 30 points in the RCP average.
That leaves New Hampshire.
“Nikki is the only candidate with momentum, and you can feel it on the ground,” spokesperson Kate Deturk told NHJournal when asked how Haley planned to narrow the gap in New Hampshire. “More people are coming out to her events, and many of them are new voters who have never attended a Haley event before. Nikki is going to continue working hard to earn every vote in the Granite State.”
UNH political science professor Dante Scala says the fundamentals of the race mean an uphill climb for Haley.
“For Haley, 35 percent is likely. And 40 percent is possible. But for Trump, a majority is within reach.”
Veteran GOP strategist Pat Griffin, however, still believes it can happen for Haley.
“This race remains very fluid, and there are more surprises to come,” Griffin said. “Christie votes largely go to Haley, and without a strong second place in Iowa, DeSantis is out. The dynamic suggests this is becoming a choice between Haley and Trump.
“And what’s most interesting — Trump knows it.”
Asked about Trump’s steady support and Haley’s lingering lag in the polls, Griffin points to the fast, new pace of politics and voter attitudes.
“Polls used to represent snapshots in time,” Griffin said.” Now, they represent microseconds.”
One challenge for Haley or DeSantis trying to pull Christie voters into their camp is that a significant percentage of them are Democrats. In the St. Anslem poll, when asked who they’d back in a Biden vs. Christie general election, about a quarter of Christie primary supporters picked Biden. In a Biden vs. Haley race, 67 percent of Christie’s voters are with Biden, and in a race with DeSantis, 82 percent pick the Democratic president.
What’s Haley’s message to Christie voters still trying to make up their minds?
“Nikki’s message has always been that the Republican Party should be about addition, not subtraction,” Deturk said. “She’s looking to unite people so we can move on from the chaos and the drama of the past — whether it’s Joe Biden or Donald Trump. She’s the only candidate with a plan for making America strong and proud again.”
Craig Stevens of Bedford, who served in the George W. Bush administration and worked on the Bush and Mitt Romney campaigns, says the Granite State is doing its job — and helping Haley.
“New Hampshire is playing its role of winnowing the field,” Stevens said. “The last several polls have shown this to be a two-person race, with Trump’s numbers trending down and Ambassador Haley’s going up. I would expect those trend lines to continue as Haley makes her closing argument in Iowa and New Hampshire, and Trump makes his in court.”