Florida Governor Ron DeSantis officially launched his presidential campaign Wednesday, ending months of speculation and ratcheting up what promises to be an intense battle for the Republican Party nomination.
DeSantis enters the race as a top-tier candidate but still lagging far behind frontrunner Donald Trump, according to just about every poll out there.
The popular governor’s backers, particularly a well-heeled super PAC, insist he is better positioned to beat President Joe Biden than the former president. They point to numbers from a well-known Republican Party pollster to make their case. But the Public Opinion Strategies (POS) polls showing DeSantis as a better bet than Trump continue to raise questions about who’s being questioned and, more so, who’s paying for the polls.
Now, POS has stopped answering questions.
As The Star News Network has detailed in a series of stories, POS has released several polls in 2024 presidential battleground states asserting “DeSantis runs better than Trump against Biden.” A poll in Georgia, for instance, found Biden narrowly beating Trump (43 percent to 42 percent), with DeSantis topping Biden (46 percent to 41 percent). The late April survey of 500 Peach State voters, published without question in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, claims DeSantis fares better with “white voters, independent voters, and Senior Citizens — all constituencies a GOP candidate needs to be successful in Georgia”
That’s the narrative in Wisconsin, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and other key presidential map states, too, according to memos to the shadowy Citizen Awareness Project.
But the polls have consistently underrepresented traditional Trump voters in the quest to spin DeSantis as more electable than the Republican Party presidential nomination frontrunner.
Just who is behind the Citizen Awareness Project, and just who is paying POS for such positive poll results for the Florida governor, remains a mystery.
Interestingly, Public Opinion Strategies announced POS partners Gene Ulm and Robert Blizzard announced on Thursday that they will be working for the DeSantis presidential campaign.
“We are excited to announce that POS Partners Gene Ulm and Robert Blizzard (@robertblizzard) will be supporting and working for Ron DeSantis for President, providing strategic advice and counsel to the campaign,” the firm tweeted.
We are excited to announce that POS Partners Gene Ulm and Robert Blizzard (@robertblizzard) will be supporting and working for Ron DeSantis for President, providing strategic advice and counsel to the campaign.
— POS (@POStrategies) May 25, 2023
The Star News Network obtained demographic and other background data on previous POS polls. Company officials did not return multiple emails requesting topline data on its latest poll and details on just who is bankrolling the effort.
When comparing previous POS polls to CNN’s 2020 Georgia exit poll, however, there are significant differences in the demographic mix.
As Trump pollster John McLaughlin points out, the former president does better among working-class voters without college degrees, as well as white voters and conservatives. The POS poll surveys fewer working-class voters, and fewer conservatives.
In the 2020 exit poll, 40 percent of respondents had a college degree, while 60 percent did not. POS’ Georgia voter survey included 48 percent of respondents had a college degree, and 52 percent did not — a 16 percentage point difference.
As for ideology mix, 40 percent of the 2020 exit poll respondents identified as conservatives, 38 percent moderates, and 22 percent liberal. POS’ ideology mix in Georgia includes 35 percent conservatives, 40 percent moderates, and 19 percent liberals — for a total net difference in conservatives and moderates surveyed of 7 percentage points.
Before launching his campaign Wednesday, DeSantis told donors and supporters on a private call last week that there are only three “credible” candidates in the race “and that only he would be able to win both the Republican Primary and the general election,” the New York Times reported.
“You have basically three people at this point that are credible in this whole thing,” DeSantis said on the call, organized by Never Back Down, the super PAC supporting him. “Biden, Trump and me. And I think of those three, two have a chance to get elected president — Biden and me, based on all the data in the swing states, which is not great for the former president and probably insurmountable because people aren’t going to change their view of him.”
“All the data” — at least much of it — is coming from the POS polls that McLaughlin says are skewed against Trump.
“The DC Never Trumpers deception of DeSantis continues. They are manufacturing skewed polls that do not reflect the 2020 turnout to deceive people that DeSantis can be Trump without Trump,” the veteran pollster said. “Their only problem is that polling on the RealClearPolitics shows that Donald Trump leads Joe Biden in the national popular vote and polls like Washington Post/ABC, The Economist and Harvard/Harris have President Trump ahead.”
The latest Marquette University Law School national poll shows Biden trailing Trump by 5 percentage points among registered voters, with 52 percent for Trump and 47 percent for Biden. DeSantis also polls ahead of Biden— 52 percent to 48 percent.
“When Marquette, which is usually horrible for us, has Trump ahead, that POS poll was definitely skewed,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin’s latest poll shows Trump leading DeSantis by nearly 40 percentage points among likely Republican Party primary voters. That’s a bit on the high side compared to other polls, but not by much. The latest RealClearPolitics average of polls has Trump up 32.6 percent on DeSantis, although much is subject to change as the Florida governor officially enters the long slog of a presidential campaign.
“Just a quick word of advice to those people who are now saying that Donald Trump can’t beat Joe Biden because the former president is once again turning off swing voters and suburbanites. Never say ‘never.’ I’ve done it, and it’s a bad idea,” Stuart Rothenberg wrote in Roll Call earlier this month.
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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.
Photo “Ron DeSantis” by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0.