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Poll: Where Republican candidates align with most Americans — and where they don't

Republican presidential candidates (from left) former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy participate in the NewsNation Republican Presidential Primary Debate at the University of Alabama on Dec. 6 in Tuscaloosa.
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Republican presidential candidates (from left) former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy participate in the NewsNation Republican Presidential Primary Debate at the University of Alabama on Dec. 6 in Tuscaloosa.

Republicans on the campaign trail are pushing several ideas. Some are in step with the majority of Americans while others are not, the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll finds.

The survey tested policy prescriptions on some of the most hot-button political issues facing the country, from abortion rights and gender identity to immigration, foreign aid, trade and what to do about the national debt.

Most Republicans presidential candidates are largely aligned with a majority of poll respondents when it comes to believing gender is determined at birth (59%), that abortion should be decided by the states (54%) and that a border wall should continue being built (54%).

But those who hold the following positions are more out of step with most Americans:

  • that birthright citizenship for children of immigrants in the U.S. illegally should end (63% in the poll said it should continue); 
  • wanting cuts to Social Security and Medicare to address the national debt (62% said don't do it); 
  • that the U.S. should stop trading with China (61% said it should not); 
  • and if they believe abortion should be banned after 6 weeks (just 39% of respondents believe that).

There are closer splits among poll respondents on whether Palestinian refugees should not be allowed in the country (50% said they should not be allowed), as some candidates have suggested, and if subsidies for electric vehicles are a good idea (50% said it's government overreach).

The country is even more evenly divided on whether they approve of the impeachment inquiry into President Biden (49% said yes, 48% said no) and on funding the wars in Ukraine and Israel.

Meanwhile, despite a growing narrative in recent weeks that former President Donald Trump has gained an edge over Biden in a potential rematch from four years ago, respondents to the NPR poll were equally split on who they would pick to be president again between the two men.

And both men are also almost equally disliked.

Neither Trump nor Biden is well-liked

Trump and Biden's favorability ratings nearly mirror each other, and neither is well-liked – 53% view Biden unfavorably, and even more, 56%, view Trump in a negative light.

While Biden is clearly vulnerable with just a 40% job approval rating, he is statistically tied with Trump in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup: 49% for Biden, 48% for Trump.

Of course, elections aren't decided by the popular vote. Democrats have won seven of the last eight popular votes for president, but they only won five of those elections because of the Electoral College and how electoral votes are distributed.

So Biden likely needs a bigger lead than a single point to translate to an Electoral College victory. In 2020, for example, Biden was leading Trump by an average of 8 points heading into Election Day.

With their respective bases, both men also have similar ratings to each other in the NPR poll — about 8 in 10 Democrats like Biden, and 8 in 10 Republicans like Trump. And both see a boost with their bases when matched up against the other — 91% of Democrats said they would choose Biden over Trump, and 93% of Republicans said the opposite.

It's a reminder that approval and favorability ratings do not necessarily indicate how people would vote when given a narrower choice.

Most want some restrictions on abortion, but they also want it legal at 15 weeks or later

Six in 10 said they want abortion available at least up until 15 weeks of a pregnancy.

Just 1 in 5 said it should never be allowed, and another 1 in 5 said it should be available only up until six weeks — before many women even know they're pregnant.


Eighty-five percent of respondents said they want exceptions at any time during the pregnancy to save the life of the mother or in the case of rape or incest, even if they support some restrictions otherwise.

By a 54%-43% margin, respondents said they think abortion policy should be determined at the state level, including 70% of Republicans and 59% of independents. Two-thirds of Democrats, however, said abortion policy should be determined at the federal level.

Americans would rather raise taxes and fees than cut entitlements to lower the national debt

Well, there's a reason Social Security is referred to as the third rail in American politics.

In the survey, 62% said they'd rather raise taxes and fees than cut the popular federal programs to address the national debt, which is now approaching $34 trillion.

That includes almost three-quarters of Democrats, two-thirds of independents and even a majority of Republicans (52%).


Republican men stand out in the poll for preferring to cut Social Security and Medicare – 50% said so, the highest of any group.

Republican candidates, for the most part, campaign on cutting spending rather than raising taxes to address the debt, but very few are willing to say they would cut Medicare and Social Security, which make up roughly half the federal budget.

An exception to that is former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who explicitly says Medicare and Social Security need to be targeted. That position puts her at odds with Trump – and Biden, for that matter – who says he does not want to touch either program.

Six in 10 say gender is determined by sex at birth, but there were divides by age and between men and women

By a 59%-38% margin, respondents said gender is determined by sex at birth.

That included almost 9 in 10 Republicans and two-thirds of independents, but just a third of Democrats.

Two-thirds of Democrats instead said they believe someone can be a man or a woman even if that is different from the sex they were assigned at birth.


There was an age gap, with a majority (52%) of younger respondents, age 18-29, who said someone can be a different gender than the one assigned at birth.

More than 6 in 10 people in older groups said gender is determined by sex at birth.

There was a gender gap here, as well, with two-thirds of men and only a slim majority of women saying gender is determined by sex at birth. There was an especially big split among men and women who live in suburbs and small cities, though, with 69% of men who live in those areas saying gender is determined at birth, but just 51% of women in those same areas agreed.

Big majorities said birthright citizenship should continue

By a 63%-35% margin, respondents said children born in the U.S. to parents who are in the country illegally should be American citizens. But 6 in 10 Republicans said they should not automatically be citizens.

There's a 16-point gap between men and women on the question, with women being far more likely to say citizenship should continue to be granted for those born here. The gender gap is again even more acute in the suburbs, where there's a 21-point difference.

But most think a wall should be built

Immigration is one of the hottest-button issues in the presidential campaign, and most respondents said that they think a border wall along the southern U.S. border should continue to be built – 54% said it should continue, including 85% of Republicans and almost 6 in 10 independents. Three-quarters of Democrats said it should not.

There was again a big gender split in the suburbs on this question — with two-thirds of men saying to finish the wall, while just less than half of women in those areas saying the same.

There were also double-digit gaps between those with and without college degrees, especially among whites — with those not holding college degrees more likely to want the wall built.

There's a split on allowing Palestinian refugees into the U.S.

Overall, by a 50%-47% margin respondents said don't allow them in the country, including three-quarters of Republicans and 56% of independents. Seven in 10 Democrats said allow them in.

Women were more likely than men to say let them in with another big huge split in the suburbs – a 20-point gap between men and women there – 55% of women in small cities and suburban areas said they would allow them in, but just 35% of men would want that.

Divisions become clearer over foreign war funding

Two-thirds of Democrats support funding for Ukraine, but less than half support aid to Israel.

When it comes to Republicans, a majority (54%) would fund Israel's war with Hamas, but just 31% want funding for Ukraine.

The White House is seeking a funding package that ties both together, but it is facing opposition from Republicans in the House who want to get more commitments on border security before approving new aid for the wars.

Overall, a third of poll respondents said they want to see funding authorized to support both wars, but another 36% said they don't want to fund either; 16% said fund only Ukraine in its war with Russia, while another 15% said fund only Israel in its war with Hamas.

So, combined, nearly half support funding Ukraine and half support funding Israel, but that doesn't make for a very clear path for writing legislation that the public would whole-heartedly support.

Democrats were more likely to want to fund both (41%). Another quarter said they would authorize funding for only Ukraine rather than Israel, and just 7% of Democrats said they would fund just Israel.

Republicans were most likely to say don't fund either war – 39% of Republicans said that — 26% said fund both wars, 28% said only provide additional funding for Israel, and 5% said only Ukraine.

There is a warning sign here for Democrats, because as past NPR polls have shown, younger and nonwhite voters are far less likely to back Israel in its war with Hamas. In this survey, 42% of Gen Z/Millennials say don't fund either war, which is more aligned with Republicans.

Only 35% of Gen Z/Millennials said they wanted to see funding go to Israel, while only 43% wanted support to go to Ukraine. Fewer than 4 in 10 nonwhites said they wanted funding for Israel or Ukraine.

Nonwhites were among the most likely of any group to say don't fund either war – 46% vs. 30% for whites. In fact, nonwhites were second only to Republican women in saying not to fund either.

Americans are split down the middle on House Republicans' impeachment inquiry into President Biden

About half (49%) said they approve of the inquiry and about the same (48%) disapprove.

Notably, a quarter of Democrats approve, while 1 in 5 Republicans disapprove.

The House is expected to vote on Wednesday on whether to formally open the inquiry, which has effectively been in the works for months.

Americans want trade with China to continue

Everyone in politics seems to be a China hawk these days, but by a 61%-37% margin, Americans think the U.S. should continue its trade relations with China.

That includes majorities of Democrats (71%) and independents (62%).

But 55% of Republicans think the U.S. should end trade relations with China. Republican women are the most likely to say end it at 60%.

There's an educational divide with white, college graduates 18 points more likely than whites without degrees to want the current trade relationship to continue.

Tax incentives for electric vehicles are not very popular

Half said they believe tax credits to incentivize electric vehicle manufacturing are government overreach that force companies to make them.

Just 45% said tax credits are good incentives to make electric vehicles.

Predictably, there are big splits by party, education and age. Three-quarters of Democrats said they are good incentives, while 8 in 10 Republicans said they're government overreach, as did 56% of independents.

There's a 14-point gap on this question between respondents with college degrees (54% said they're good incentives) and those without (only 40% said the same).

The oldest voters were the least likely of the age groups to support these credits.

Methodology: The survey of 1,259 adults was conducted Dec. 4-7 by the Marist Poll by phone, both cell phones and landlines using live interviewers, by text or online in both English and Spanish. The margin of error is + or - 3.5 percentage points, meaning results could be about 3 points lower or higher.

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Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.