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Trump’s lead holds in poll and Haley overtakes DeSantis for second place among N.H. voters

Donald Trump retains a significant lead among likely voters in New Hampshire's Republican presidential primary, while Nikki Haley has moved into second, the poll shows.Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP /Meg Kinnard/AP Photo

Donald Trump holds a 30 percentage-point lead over the pool of Republican rivals churning below him in New Hampshire, where the vast majority of his supporters say little, if anything, can shift their vote from the former president, according to a new Suffolk University/Boston Globe/USA TODAY poll.

Trump’s yawning advantage in the state’s GOP primary is braced by another factor: Any gains by, say, Nikki Haley — who at 19 percent is polling closest to Trump’s 49 percent of support — are coming at the expense of other Republicans, not Trump, even as just under half of those surveyed believe he is the party’s inevitable nominee, the poll found.

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The poll featured 500 voters who said they are likely to vote in the GOP primary, some 40 percent of whom were undeclared voters.

The movement, or lack thereof, in the GOP field is playing out in a first-in-the-nation primary electorate that is embracing some of the GOP’s hardline views, according to responses to other questions in the poll.

Nearly 58 percent of likely primary voters believe the country should end birthright citizenship, the long-held right to American citizenship to anyone born in the country and one that is guaranteed by the Constitution. Sixty-one percent believe climate change is either not serious or not happening.

And 71 percent said they were “concerned” with how public schools are teaching race and sexual identity, an indication that a national conservative movement calling for “parental rights” in education is catching fire in the state.

Trump “is my choice out of default,” said Randy Garabedian, a 73-year-old Hampstead Republican who said Haley, the former South Carolina governor, is the only candidate resonating with him and would be his choice in a one-on-one race with Trump. “But I also feel like I don’t want to throw my vote away, just because I like her.”

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David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, said the poll shows Haley is the strongest alternative candidate to Trump in New Hampshire. Under the state’s semi-open primary system, undeclared voters can choose to vote in the Republican primary, which Paleologos predicted could be advantageous for Haley because she proved slightly more popular among that group than among registered Republicans.

The poll — conducted by live calls to landlines and cellphones between Thursday and Monday — has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

Still, Paleologos noted, other poll findings suggest Haley and other rivals have limited room to grow.

Just 59 percent of likely New Hampshire GOP primary voters said their minds were firmly made up on whom they’re backing, while 39 percent acknowledged they could change their choice before next year’s primary, which is expected to take place in late January. Trump supporters were more certain: 84 percent said they are resolute.

They were also more convinced than other respondents that Trump will win the nomination. Just 48 percent of likely GOP voters said they saw Trump’s nomination as a sure thing, while 71 percent of Trump voters consider his coronation inevitable.

Nearly three-quarters of likely GOP primary voters also believe Trump — the subject of four criminal indictments — has done nothing wrong or illegal, further evidence that little is shaking his hold in New Hampshire.

“Is anything statistically possible? Sure,” Paleologos said when asked whether Haley or any other candidate stood a chance of toppling Trump. But “with where we are today,” he said, it’s “improbable” that any candidate other than Trump would win the New Hampshire primary.

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“You can’t get to Trump voters,” he said of the challenges the former president’s rivals face.

Dan Lonie, a truck driver from Merrimack, N.H., said there’s “nothing that Trump could do” that could change his support for him, though Lonie expressed concern that Democrats desperate to stop Trump from being reelected could resort to violence.

“I really do have that fear,” said Lonie, 55. “Democrats are scared of him. . . . They’re doing everything they can to stop him.”

For Trump’s rivals, the traditional opportunities to accumulate support — making a splash on the debate stage, for example, or earning the endorsement of other early states or well-liked local politicians — seem not to offer much help either.

Poll results showed that just 35 percent of Trump supporters watched the recent Republican debate, meaning rival candidates could not use that platform to sap support from him. Other things aren’t swaying them either: 92 percent of Trump voters said they did not care, for example, who wins the endorsement of Governor Chris Sununu; 94 percent said they did not care who wins the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses.

“I just don’t think anybody can beat Trump,” said Cynthia Williams, a 49-year-old Republican from Hooksett. She called the prosecutions against him a “witch hunt” and said they are the only way Democrats can truly stop him.

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Two issues are dominating primary voters’ thinking, the poll shows: They are either most concerned about the economy — 32 percent called it their most important issue — or immigration and the border, which 37 percent identified as the most important concern.

The majority indicated addressing the latter could mean drastic action. Nearly three of five voters said the country should end birthright citizenship, which ensures that those born in the United States to noncitizens are citizens themselves. Ending it is a once-fringe idea that Trump championed during his term in the White House that has since taken root in the GOP mainstream. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is polling third in the field with 10 percent of support, also backs ending it, while Haley has suggested she wants to limit it.

Vivek Ramaswamy, the son of Indian immigrants, has suggested he would go even further as president, to deport American-born children of undocumented immigrants. Ramaswamy earned about 4 percent of support in the poll, drawing from a pool that is also sympathetic to Trump; 40 percent of Ramaswamy voters said Trump was their second choice.

“It’s got to end, to cut down on immigration,” Diane Martin, a 74-year-old Republican from Lancaster, N.H., said of birthright citizenship. Immigration, she said, “is so far ahead of what we ever anticipated” under the 14th Amendment, which was adopted more than 150 years ago and says that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” are US citizens.

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“If someone wants to become a citizen, they could go through the proper channels,” Martin said.

At a time of major strikes nationwide, including by auto workers and Hollywood actors, GOP primary voters also indicated they were cool to the workers’ actions. Nearly 52 percent said they view labor strikes unfavorably — compared to 33 percent who said the opposite — while few said they consider unions essential to protecting workers.

In fact, the vast majority, or more than 63 percent, said they agreed that while they can be good for workers, “sometimes they go too far.”

The responses are likely a reflection of voters’ own experiences. Just 13 percent said they or a member of their household were a member of a labor union.

The poll also showed that a strong majority of GOP voters were concerned with how public schools in New Hampshire teach issues of race and sexual identity, even if they did not have children in public school themselves. Those numbers were even higher among those with school-aged children, with 68 percent saying they were “very concerned” and 15 percent saying they were “somewhat concerned.”

James Smith, a Trump voter from Nashua and a 52-year-old father of three, said his daughter felt one of her high school teachers was preaching Democratic politics, and treated her differently based on her Republican views. His daughter, like her parents, watches Fox News and Newsmax, he said.

“My teenage children do not know how to write cursive, because the schools are too busy trying to teach politics,” Smith said.


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him @mattpstout. Emma Platoff can be reached at emma.platoff@globe.com. Follow her @emmaplatoff.