Internal Iowa polling conducted for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s Super PAC Never Back Down shows the flailing presidential candidate’s prospects in the first-in-the-nation state are far worse than the rosy picture DeSantis’s team has presented publicly there.
DeSantis, his own Super PAC admits, currently trails former President Donald Trump by 21 percent in Iowa. The survey documents, published online as part of a broader trove of information that the political consulting firm Axiom Strategies has online, show Trump at 40 percent in Iowa. DeSantis, meanwhile, lingers down at 19 percent—21 points lower than Trump—and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) is rising right behind DeSantis now at 12 percent in Iowa, per DeSantis’s own team.
A full 20 percent in the survey back other candidates, and 9 percent are undecided. The document is dated August 2023—meaning it is currently the view of the DeSantis operation that Trump leads DeSantis with more than double DeSantis’s level of support in Iowa.
DeSantis’s team has publicly argued differently, that the Florida governor is outperforming public polling in Iowa and is on track to do well there. But the fact is his Super PAC’s own data comports pretty closely with public polling in Iowa. The latest New York Times/Siena College Iowa survey published in early August showed Trump leading by 24 points—around the same amount as DeSantis’s own Super PAC’s numbers show Trump up by—and the RealClearPolitics average in Iowa has Trump leading by around 27 percent.
DeSantis himself, despite these abysmal numbers, has played up his Iowa prospects. “I think we’re doing very well in Iowa. I would not trade places with anybody else,” he said just this week, for instance.
His campaign and Super PAC have both aggressively messaged too that DeSantis is vastly outperforming polling and expectations in the Hawkeye state. Erin Perrine, Never Back Down’s communications director, has regularly hyped DeSantis in Iowa:
— Erin Perrine (@ErinMPerrine) August 11, 2023
New York Times: DeSantis Impresses in Iowa, Showing Up an Absent Trumphttps://t.co/YhIGXs40Ys
— Erin Perrine (@ErinMPerrine) May 14, 2023
Smokey Row Coffee.
Well over 200 people. pic.twitter.com/UZKPYMbov3
— Erin Perrine (@ErinMPerrine) July 28, 2023
But the fact remains that even the Florida governor’s own team knows he is losing—losing badly–in the state. Even in a head-to-head matchup with Trump where every other candidate dropped out before Iowa—something DeSantis almost certainly will not get—DeSantis’s team admits he “currently lags Trump by 8 points.”
The polling, which Never Back Down paid for, was conducted by WPA Intelligence, a polling firm run by GOP pollster Chris Wilson.
Super PACs are barred by law from coordinating with campaigns they are supporting, but oftentimes they might publicly post polling documents, strategy documents, suggested talking points, and more online in obscure places for the campaigns they are backing to find so they can get around anti-coordination laws. Sometimes, a Super PAC gets away with doing so in a manner that nobody notices, but other times rival campaigns and news outlets notice such documents posted somewhere—and that can cause problems for a candidate if sensitive strategy suggestions make it into the public sphere. This Iowa polling document was one of many posted on Axiom Strategies’s website, a dump of documents first unearthed by the New York Times on Thursday. House GOP conference chairwoman Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), a top Trump ally who has endorsed the former president, roasted DeSantis’s team for the failure:
As a former debate prepper, the first and most obvious rule of debate prep is don’t leak the debate prep memo. This is absolute malpractice. And as I have said from the very beginning, President Trump is going to steamroll the entire field. There is no real primary and we need to… https://t.co/zDnt6LZtno
— Elise Stefanik (@EliseStefanik) August 17, 2023
The broader set of documents included a particularly aggressive one suggesting attack lines for DeSantis at the upcoming debate. That document has since been removed after the Times asked for comment on it. But this Iowa polling data, and several other documents, remain up on Axiom’s website.
Axiom is the political consulting firm run by political consultant Jeff Roe, the top adviser to Never Back Down.