Christie's withdrawal is good news for Haley

The two were in danger of splitting the anti-Trump vote in New Hampshire.

January 10, 2024, 6:53 PM

On Tuesday, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called the governor of New Hampshire a "liar" for suggesting that Christie was considering dropping out of the Republican presidential primary. Instead, Christie insisted that he would remain in the race as long as he saw a viable path to the nomination.

On Wednesday, Christie dropped out of the race.

In all likelihood, though, Christie's abrupt change of heart didn't come about because he suddenly saw no path to victory. From the moment he entered the race, it was clear that he was too unpopular — his average favorable/unfavorable rating among Republicans is currently* 22 percent to 57 percent — to seriously contend for the Republican nomination, and he never exceeded 4 percent in 538's national polling average. Instead, Christie probably withdrew to avoid playing spoiler to former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley in New Hampshire.

From the beginning, the raison d'être of Christie's campaign was to oppose former President Donald Trump. Despite being the first governor or senator to endorse Trump in the 2016 primary, Christie has spent the last few years as a vocal Trump critic, calling him "disgusting" and a "dictator" who is "unfit" for office.

But Haley — who has been more measured in her criticism of Trump — is the one who has emerged as the preferred candidate of anti-Trump Republicans. And in New Hampshire, whose independent-skewing electorate makes Trump more vulnerable than in any other early state, Haley is the one best-positioned to defeat him. According to 538's polling average, Trump is currently sitting at 42 percent in the Granite State, while Haley is at 30 percent. Christie is in a distant third with 12 percent.

PHOTO: A screenshot of 538's polling average for the 2024 Republican presidential primary race in New Hampshire.
Former President Donald Trump is currently sitting at 42 percent in 538's polling average of New Hampshire; former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is second at 30 percent.
538 Photo Illustration

But Haley had a problem: A lot of Christie's voters were the type of anti-Trump Republicans or independents who might otherwise support her. According to an average of recent polls that asked Republican primary voters who their second choice for president was, half of Christie supporters nationwide said Haley, while just 6 percent said Trump. And in New Hampshire specifically, 52 percent of Christie supporters chose Haley; only 2 percent chose Trump.

If you assume that Christie's supporters will now just vote for their second-choice candidate, basic math says Haley will gain 6 percentage points (52 percent of 12 percent) in New Hampshire from Christie's withdrawal. Trump, meanwhile, will gain virtually no support. That wouldn't be enough to put Haley in the lead in New Hampshire, but it would make the race much closer, and increase the possibility that a solid debate performance, a strong finish in Iowa or even a normal-sized polling error could help push Haley over the top.

(Speaking of Iowa, Christie is currently polling at just 3 percent there, and only 37 percent of his supporters in the state told pollsters that Haley was their second choice. So Christie's withdrawal will probably only give Haley a small boost in Iowa — maybe 1 point. That said, Haley is currently tied with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in our Iowa polling average at 17 percent, so even a small boost could be enough to put her in second place there.)

Now, it may not be that simple. Christie supporters may not automatically flock to Haley. Maybe a lot of them will just stay home now, or maybe they'll change their minds about who their second choice is. The 13 days until the New Hampshire primary is still an eternity in political terms. But there's little doubt that Christie's departure from the race is good for Haley. The only question is how good.


*All numbers in this article are as of Jan. 10 at 5 p.m. Eastern.