North Star Blog

Jon McHenry, December 15

Jon McHenry’s comments to The Daily Caller regarding President Biden’s decline in support among traditional Democratic supporters:

“What is really interesting about the polling is not that President Biden is slipping among core Democratic constituencies like younger voters and Black and Hispanic voters,” Jon McHenry, a GOP polling analyst and vice president at North Star Opinion Research, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “The fascinating part is that former President Trump is gaining some of that support. That seems to be attributable to a general sense that voters think they were better off when President Trump was in office.”

McHenry pointed to a recent Wall Street Journal survey that found 49% of voters said Trump’s policies helped them compared to only 23% who said the same of Biden’s, which he believes could be attributable for these minority voters leaving the president’s side.

“That’s a stunning rebuke of President Biden’s tenure,” said McHenry.

McHenry believes the shift of younger voters away from Biden has “accelerated” since the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack, citing a recent poll his firm conducted in the battleground state of Wisconsin that found these individuals don’t approve of the president supporting Israel’s right to defend itself.

“All these polls point to Democrats nominating someone who they aren’t actually enthusiastic about and may not show up to support in the fall. As so many Democrats talk about Trump being an existential threat to democracy, it’s hard to believe they’re going to just go ahead and nominate someone who looks like a lock to lose to him,” said McHenry.

To read the full article, please click here.

Jon McHenry, December 13

Jon McHenry’s comments to The Boston Globe regarding Governor Chris Sununu’s endorsement of Governor Nikki Haley:

Some analysts say Sununu’s endorsement could help his preferred candidate emerge from New Hampshire’s primary on Jan. 23 as the clear Trump alternative.

He could “put a stamp on her as, yes, she’s really the alternative to Trump,” said Jon McHenry, a national GOP pollster who grew up in the state, in an interview last week. “His endorsement won’t put her over the top, but it sort of keeps her in the game.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, December 12

Whit Ayres’ comments to The Atlantic regarding the primary challenges of Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley:

As the veteran GOP pollster Whit Ayres told me, DeSantis “has tried to appeal to some of the ‘always Trump’ voters, but the ‘always Trump’ voters are always Trump for a reason. Nikki Haley seems to have figured out the job is to consolidate the ‘maybe Trump’ voters who supported Trump twice but now … want a different style and different temperament.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, December 11

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Wall Street Journal on the U.S. political system:

Asked to summarize the year 2023 in politics, Republican pollster Whit Ayres is blunt: “2023 was a terrible year for America’s political system.”

Meantime, the two parties appeared on track to produce a rematch in 2024’s election between Biden and Trump, a contest that polls suggest two-thirds of Americans don’t really want. The bottom line, Ayres suggests, is that “public trust in our political system is in the cellar.”

To read the full article, please click here ($).

Jon McHenry, December 6

Jon McHenry spoke with NPR regarding the stakes of the fourth Republican presidential primary debate:

Republican pollster Jon McHenry of North Star Opinion Research believes there’s still a narrow opening for an alternative, “as much as Donald Trump is trying to force it closed and lock it.”

But, debate performance is crucial at this stage.

“Because there’s only four, and they all get more airtime, it puts a premium on actually being knowledgeable about these issues,” McHenry explained.

Ahead of the debate, McHenry said he saw it as a make-or-break moment, particularly for DeSantis, who’d once been seen as the most likely Republican hopeful to take on Trump. But McHenry points to a recent shakeup at a pro-DeSantis super PAC, and the fact that Haley seems to have stepped into that role based on polling and support from donors like the Koch network.

To read the full article, please click here, or click here to listen to the December 5 radio story.

Whit Ayres, November 14

Whit Ayres’ in CNN regarding Governor Nikki Haley and the Republican presidential primary:

“I think Haley is clearly the second-place candidate right now,” said veteran Republican pollster Whit Ayres.

Ayres has famously divided the GOP electorate into three camps: an always Trump group immovably bound to him; a never Trump group implacably hostile to him; and a maybe Trump group that supported him but is wearying of the chaos that surrounds him and is open to an alternative. DeSantis, Ayres argued, has “has tried to appeal to some of the ‘always Trump’ voters, but the ‘always Trump’ voters are always Trump for a reason. Nikki Haley seems to have figured out the job is to consolidate the ‘maybe Trump’ voters who supported Trump twice but now … want a different style and different temperament.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Jon McHenry, November 8

Jon McHenry spoke with NPR news about Governor Nikki Haley’s path to the Republican nomination:

Republican pollster Jon McHenry with North Star Opinion Research says if Haley can make a very strong showing in the early contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and her home state of South Carolina, she could still have at least a theoretical – albeit narrow – path to the nomination.

“It’s not overly likely,” McHenry cautioned, “given the sort of the cult like following [Trump] seems to have among some primary voters.” 

“But I do think Gov. Haley has probably the best shot of the rest of the field,” he added. 

McHenry says Haley would need to continue standing out in the debates, and hope that more of her rivals drop out, like former Vice President Mike Pence did recently.

To read the full story or listen to the audio, please click here.

Whit Ayres, November 8

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Los Angeles Times about the Democratic ticket:

Whit Ayres, who has spent decades polling and strategizing for Republican candidates, described the Democratic ticket of Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris as the weakest since that of George McGovern and Sargent Shriver, who were shellacked by President Nixon in 1972.

But Ayres is not convinced Republicans will win the White House.

“There’s a host of events that are going to happen between now and November 2024 that could change the outcome, or at least affect the outcome, of the election,” Ayres said. 

He’s not even certain that Biden and Trump will be their respective party nominees, though it seems more likely than not.

“There are a lot of people who are making flat statements about what’s going to happen … that might turn out to be right but could just as likely turn out to be wrong,” Ayres said, “because they’re affected by events that haven’t happened yet.”

To read the entire column, please click here.

Whit Ayres, October 29

Whit Ayres’ comments in Politico on Governor Nikki Haley’s standing in the Republican presidential nominating contest:

“It’s coming at a great time for her,” said Whit Ayres, a longtime Republican pollster. “Sometimes the direction of movement is as important as the absolute level of standing — and she’s going up, while the other candidates are either going down or remaining flat.”

Despite Trump still leading the rest of the field by as many as 50 points nationally and 30 points in the early states, Haley is now the main reason DeSantis can no longer declare the primary a “two-man race.” She has closed in on DeSantis, surpassing him in New Hampshire and South Carolina, and is slowly gaining on him in Iowa, despite the Florida governor barnstorming the state throughout the summer and investing significantly more there than Haley.

Since the first debate, Haley has caught fire with New Hampshire voters, rocketing from 3 percent in August to as high as 19 percent recently and solidly in second place.

“The rise is real,” Ayres said. “It reflects her debate performance in the first two debates, but also her performance on the stump.”

To read the whole story, please click here.

Jon McHenry, October 19

Jon McHenry’s comments to Politico regarding Governor Ron DeSantis’ governing and campaigning style:

“Gov. DeSantis seems to be better at running for president when he’s governing rather than campaigning,” said Jon McHenry, a GOP pollster [from] New Hampshire whose firm North Star Opinion Research Group worked on DeSantis’ 2018 gubernatorial campaign. “He drives the conversation more effectively when he’s governing, and actually doing something, rather than sort of talking about what ideological perspective he might be coming from.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Jon McHenry, October 14

Jon McHenry’s comments to NPR regarding the importance of the New Hampshire presidential primary:

“New Hampshire is a reminder that we don’t do this nomination process nationally, that the undeclared voters, the Republican voters in New Hampshire have a chance to say, we’re going to take a look at all these other candidates,” said Jon McHenry, a national GOP pollster from New Hampshire. 

“So we’re going to sort of put them through their paces and see which one we really want to be the standard bearer for our party rather than just Donald Trump holding a few rallies and rolling to a nomination again,” McHenry added.

To read the full article, please click here.

Jon McHenry, October 8

Jon McHenry’s comments to The Daily Caller regarding recent polling showing Donald Trump edging ahead of Joe Biden:

A Republican nominee like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley would have a better chance than Trump against Biden, according to Jon McHenry, a GOP polling analyst and vice president at North Star Opinion Research. Despite this, McHenry told the DCNF that Trump could beat Biden on the basis of the economy, though he acknowledged it’s still too close to call.

“We have such a unique situation right now with both party’s leading candidates in negative territory on their favorable to unfavorable ratings — and the current and previous officeholder. Reelection campaigns are typically a two-step process as a referendum on the incumbent: first, does he or she deserve reelection, and second, would the other candidate do better? I think right now President Biden is losing the referendum, with voters disapproving of his job overall, and especially on the economy and immigration,” said McHenry. “But if the choice is between two candidates with 35 to 40 percent favorables, voters are likely to choose the one who had the better economy.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Dan Judy, October 3

Dan Judy’s comments to The Hill regarding the threat of government shutdowns:

“Most voters don’t really pay attention to the Machiavellian ins-and-outs of this stuff,” GOP strategist Dan Judy told this column. “But what voters do see is continued utter dysfunction in Washington. That is what hurts the Republican brand more than the details of any specific situation.”

Judy cautioned that any political advantage for Democrats was likely to be slight, even as he expressed dismay at the recent goings-on.

“Republicans do tend to take more blame historically for shutdowns,” he said. “But this sort of brinkmanship has become so common that I think the idea of blame is sort of irrelevant in the minds of most voters. So, do Republicans take more blame? Probably. But it dirties everybody up so much.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, October 5

Whit Ayres’ comments on the PBS survey and keys to the presidential election:

Voters who dislike both Trump and Biden — “the double haters,” Republican strategist Whit Ayers says — “become a swing voter group” that both parties will spend significant time and money trying to win over.

“This is a politics of negative polarization where people feel greater animosity against the other side than they feel support for their own,” said Ayres, who has previously consulted for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sens. Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio.

To read the full article, please click here.

Dan Judy, October 3

Dan Judy’s comments to The Hill regarding shutdown brinksmanship:

“Most voters don’t really pay attention to the Machiavellian ins-and-outs of this stuff,” GOP strategist Dan Judy told this column. “But what voters do see is continued utter dysfunction in Washington. That is what hurts the Republican brand more than the details of any specific situation.”

Judy cautioned that any political advantage for Democrats was likely to be slight, even as he expressed dismay at the recent goings-on.

“Republicans do tend to take more blame historically for shutdowns,” he said. “But this sort of brinkmanship has become so common that I think the idea of blame is sort of irrelevant in the minds of most voters. So, do Republicans take more blame? Probably. But it dirties everybody up so much.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres’ Conversation with Bill Kristol

Whit Ayres joined Bill Kristol for a conversation about the State of the Republican party nomination:

Whit Ayres, August 23

Whit Ayres’ comments to CNN regarding continued Republican support for former President Donald Trump:

Veteran GOP pollster Whit Ayres points to another, more personal, reason so many GOP voters have discounted the charges against Trump. “Many of them had conflict with siblings, with parents, sometimes with children, sometimes even with spouses about their support for Donald Trump,” Ayres says. “And they are very defensive about it. That makes them instinctively rally to Donald Trump’s defense because if they suggest in any way that he is not fit for office then that casts aspersions on their own past support for him.”

To read the full article, please click here.

“They’re not going to settle for second-best Trump.”

Whit Ayres’ comments in The New York Times regarding Governor Ron DeSantis’ campaign strategy:

Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster, argued in an email that DeSantis has adopted an approach to the nomination fight that was bound to fail:

“DeSantis’s strategy, and that of any candidate not named Trump, should be to consolidate the Maybe Trump voters. But DeSantis has seemed like he was going after the Always Trump voters with his aggressive language (“slitting throats”), his comment that Ukraine was just a “territorial dispute,” his suggestion that vaccine conspiracy theorist RFK Jr. would be a good candidate to head the Centers for Disease Control, and his doubling down on whether slavery might have been beneficial to some enslaved people.”

The problem with this approach, Ayres continued, is that “the Always Trump voters are ‘Always Trump’ for a reason — they are not going to settle for the second-best Trump if they can get the real thing.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, August 18

Whit Ayres’ comments to the Associated Press regarding the Republican primary electorate:

Whit Ayres, a national pollster based in Virginia, handicapped the GOP electorate as 10% to 15% “Never Trumpers” — those who might gravitate to Christie for his attacks on Trump — and 35% or so “die-hard MAGA Trump supporters,” referring to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.

The rest, half or a slim majority of the party, “have doubts about his electability” in a general election but are still “reliable Republicans who voted for him twice,” Ayres said. Trump’s rivals cannot win over that remaining faction by “going after him frontally,” the pollster argued.

As a Republican, “you can’t call him unfit for office,” Ayres said. “That’s basically requiring half the party to admit they screwed up and put someone unfit for office into the Oval Office. That’s just a psychological step too far for most people.”

To read the full article on the PBS website, please click here.

Jon McHenry, August 14

Jon McHenry’s comments to The Boston Globe regarding the economy as an issue in the Republican primary and general election:

Letting the White House dominate the conversation isn’t good for Republicans with polls consistently showing that voters rank the economy as the most important issue, said Jon McHenry, a GOP pollster not affiliated with any of the campaigns.

“It makes a lot of sense to be out there … talking about what you’re going to do to fix the economy,” McHenry said of the candidates in the GOP primary campaign. “Republicans are better served being involved on the issue and laying the groundwork on it rather than ceding the issue to Joe Biden for the next 12 months or so.”

McHenry said Pence was smart to frame his economic plan, which goes beyond inflation, as still primarily focused on that problem.

“It’s a good shorthand on the economy,” he said. “Just talking about inflation is a pretty good way to make sure people are on the same page with you.”

For now, Biden is doing more talking in detail about the economy than his Republican opponents, making Bidenomics a centerpiece of his reelection campaign.

“I don’t know if it’s the dumbest or gutsiest move I’ve seen politically in the last 20 years,” McHenry said.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, August 15

Whit Ayres’ comments to The New York Times regarding the political implications of former President Trump’s fourth indictment:

“I do think a conviction on a serious felony charge may change the views of at least the maybe-Trump cohort in the G.O.P. about his electability,” said Whit Ayres, a veteran Republican pollster. “On the other hand, an acquittal in the first case virtually assures his renomination.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, August 7

Whit Ayres spoke with The Guardian about Hunter Biden’s legal troubles:

Whit Ayres, a Republican political consultant and pollster, said: “There are plenty of questions surrounding his business activities and the extent to which he traded on his father’s name and reputation or used his father to get more money or get large contracts. There are plenty of questions and a lot of suspicion – in Republican circles anyway – about how that has been investigated.”

The scrutiny is testing boundaries and whether the family of a politician – even a president – is fair game. Hunter has never served in the White House, which is quick to describe him as a “private citizen”. But he is often seen at his father’s side, including on a recent trip to Ireland and on the White House balcony for 4 July fireworks, a frequent reminder of the president’s family complications.

Ayres added: “I don’t think I would be putting him front and centre as much as the president is doing. I understand his instinct to try to be loyal to a troubled son but politically it is not at all helpful. The less visible Hunter Biden is, the better it is for Joe Biden.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Jon McHenry, August 4

Jon McHenry spoke to The Daily Caller about former President Donald Trump’s third indictment:

“President Trump really benefited from the first indictment being the Alvin Bragg indictment in NY. That acted like a traditional vaccine: he got enough of a virus to inoculate him but not put him at serious risk. With those charges being seen as politically driven, Trump has been able to fight off increasingly serious charges,” Jon McHenry, GOP polling analyst, told the DCNF. “Plus, this charge coming on the heels of a judge questioning a plea deal for Hunter Biden, it is relatively easy for the former president and his allies to charge that the Department of Justice has one set of standards for President Biden’s family and another set for Donald Trump.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Jon McHenry, August 2

Jon McHenry joined Channel 4 News in the UK to discuss former President Trump’s standing despite multiple indictments:

https://www.channel4.com/news/why-trump-is-still-the-republican-presidential-front-runner-despite-several-indictments

Whit Ayres, July 31

Whit Ayres appeared on PBS NewsHour to discuss the current state of the race:

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/republican-challengers-struggle-in-primary-polls-despite-trumps-legal-troubles

Jon McHenry, July 31

Jon McHenry’s comments in The Daily Caller regarding the DeSantis campaign “reboot”:

“I think a reset now gives Governor DeSantis a chance to reassert himself as the strongest alternative to former President Trump,” Jon McHenry, a GOP polling analyst and vice president at North Star Opinion Research, told the DCNF. “Gov. DeSantis moving to make himself more available to the media and voters is a great first step.”

McHenry argued the campaign’s “staff was too big,” which indicated to contributors that DeSantis wasn’t being responsible with their funds. DeSantis also needs to promote his record in Florida without simply “owning the libs,” said McHenry.

“At some point he’s going to have to draw some distinctions with Trump and talk about how he’s really led when President Trump followed Washington,” said McHenry. “It’s not enough to be ‘Trump without the baggage,’ you have to be a better choice and have a vision for the country’s future.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, July 25

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Washington Post on the Mike Pence campaign:

“Mike Pence is caught between a rock and a hard place. He’s too Trumpy for the non-Trumpies and not Trumpy enough for the Trumpies,” said GOP pollster Whit Ayres. “If you say that Donald Trump is unfit for office, that puts people who voted for Trump in an uncomfortable position psychologically where they have to admit to themselves that they made a mistake. I suppose you could thread that needle by saying he was fit for office until Jan. 6th, and after that he wasn’t. But that’s really threading a needle with those folks.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Dan Judy, July 25

Dan Judy’s comments in The Hill regarding Governor DeSantis’ campaign and cultural issues:

Some Republicans argue that DeSantis has made a strategic miscalculation in allowing his stance on culture-war issues to overshadow everything else.

GOP strategist Dan Judy argued that the Republican primary electorate is comprised of three camps, which he termed “Always Trump,” “Never Trump” and “Maybe Trump” voters.

The red-meat rhetoric, Judy added, “most appeals to the people who won’t vote for anyone but Trump. And leaning so hard into the culture wars has actually turned off some of those ‘Maybe Trump’ voters who are less comfortable with the anti-trans stuff, the hard abortion stuff. That has been [DeSantis’s] biggest strategic mistake so far.” 

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, July 22

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Miami Herald on Governor Ron DeSantis’ appeal in the primary:

“College-educated Republicans were looking for an alternative to Donald Trump, and they initially thought Governor DeSantis, after his 19-point win in Florida, made for a good one,” said Whit Ayres, a veteran GOP pollster. “But the way he has run his campaign, constantly tacking to the right, has turned off many of those people who were initially attracted to him.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Jon McHenry, July 18

Jon McHenry’s comments to The Daily Caller on the Q2 fundraising haul of Mike Pence and others:

The former vice president’s second quarter totals don’t indicate there is a “lane” for Pence, Jon McHenry, a GOP polling analyst and vice president at North Star Opinion Research, told the DCNF, echoing Bullock’s sentiment.

“Vice President Pence’s numbers are kind of right where you’d expect: some courtesy donations in appreciation of past relationships, but nothing that suggests there is a lane for him to pursue in this race,” McHenry told the DCNF. “His association with President Trump will sour the ‘never Trump’ folks, and his refusal to derail the certification of electors ticks off the hard core Trump folks.”

McHenry argued the second quarter totals reveal the “importance” of the first presidential debate in August to see which candidates catch fire, and questioned whether DeSantis can garner new donors with a strong debate performance.

“It’s hard to see much of a path forward for Governor Hutchinson or Governor Christie if they don’t score some points in that debate,” said McHenry. “As much as we can romanticize Senator McCain’s comeback in 2008, riding around New Hampshire on the Straight Talk Express, he had the benefit of being the second place candidate in 2000. None of the lower tier fundraisers has that level of visibility, and something will need to change to improve their fundraising and status for them to even make the Iowa caucus.”

To read the full article — including quotes from UGA professor Chuck Bullock — please click here.