scorecardDisney is seriously unpopular with GOP primary voters in key states, internal DeSantis 2024 campaign data and leaked audio show
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Disney is seriously unpopular with GOP primary voters in key states, internal DeSantis 2024 campaign data and leaked audio show

Kimberly Leonard   

Disney is seriously unpopular with GOP primary voters in key states, internal DeSantis 2024 campaign data and leaked audio show
PoliticsPolitics5 min read
The DeSantis campaign has been polling The Walt Disney Co. in early primary voting states, and found it's unpopular.    Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG and Tracy Glantz/The State/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
  • Plenty of Republicans criticize DeSantis over his bitter, ceaseless fight with Walt Disney World.
  • But DeSantis 2024 campaign polling shows it could help him with Republican voters in a primary.

Maybe getting on Mickey Mouse's bad side isn't the colossal loser that Republican 2024 presidential primary candidates think it is.

DeSantis presidential campaign polling data presented in a closed-door session to top donors in Miami this week show that going after The Walt Disney Co. could actually be a political winner for the Florida governor — at least when it comes to a GOP primary.

Ryan Tyson, pollster for the campaign, found the company was deeply unpopular among Republicans primary, according to findings shared with The Messenger. The publication said surveys showed Disney had a net negative "unfavorable" rating of -44% in Iowa, -35% in New Hampshire; -26% in South Carolina, and -45% in Nevada.

"I want to be very clear about this point: The disconnect from the ruling class and their view of Disney and the voters, the primary voters, and their view of Disney could not be wider at this point," Ryan said in leaked audio obtained by "It's a chasm. Parents are seeing the trash their children get from Disney+, through the media and whatnot, and they're over it."

The takeaway for those viewing the presentation was that Disney was unfavorable with conservative voters, one attendee who asked not to be named told Insider.

Republican registered voters who cast a ballot in a primary tend to be more conservative. Following former President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign, a growing faction of the party is also populist, and therefore has a sharply negative view of mega corporations, Pew Research Center data show.

Tyson did not respond to a text message from Insider requesting more details about the poll, nor did the DeSantis campaign's press representatives.

"The campaign thinks this is a very good issue for primary voters," Dan Eberhart, CEO of drilling services company Canary, LLC, told Insider. Eberhart, who fundraised for DeSantis in Miami for a call-a-thon this week, called Disney the "800-pound gorilla of kids content."

"It's all woke," he said, using a term conservatives generally use to deride progressive activism. "You can't find a traditional family anywhere."

Both Democrats and Republican rivals for the 2024 presidential nomination have attacked Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over his ceaseless, bitter crusade against Walt Disney World. On Thursday, 2024 frontrunner former President Donald Trump released a video on Truth Social bashing the DeSantis-Disney battle as "very unfortunate" for Florida's economy after the company scrapped a new campus in the Sunshine State.

"Look at Disney and what a mess it is," Trump said. "He could have worked out an easy settlement but he wanted to show the fake news how tough a guy he is. He's not."

Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, who is also running for the GOP nomination, implored Disney World to relocate to South Carolina, saying the state where she previously served as governor would welcome the theme park's business. Disney is Florida's biggest tourist attraction and employs 80,000 people.

Neither campaign responded to a query from Insider addressing whether they had polling that conflicted with the DeSantis campaign findings.

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley urged Walt Disney World to consider relocating from Florida to South Carolina.
Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley urged Walt Disney World to consider relocating from Florida to South Carolina.      Oficina del primer ministro de Corea, John Raoux, File, and Patrick Semansky/AP Photo

'I'm not backing down' of Disney fight, DeSantis said

As for the Florida governor, he frequently boasts about his battle with Disney, which is now before the courts. The dispute began when the company said it would repeal a DeSantis-backed schools law that limited how and when LGBTQ topics are taught in public schools.

Disney called the bill "Don't Say Gay" in press releases, and the governor acted with the legislature to try to take away special privileges it had in Florida for decades, ones that other theme parks don't enjoy and that save the resort and theme park time and money when it comes to building and other operations.

"My wife and I really believe that parents in Florida and throughout the country should be able to send their kids to school, allow them to watch cartoons, just be kids, without having someone try to shove an agenda down their throats," DeSantis said Friday of his support for the schools bill, formally known as the Parental Rights in Education Act, during a speech in Orlando. "It is wrong for a teacher to tell a second grader they might be born into the wrong body."

With the help of board members he appointed, DeSantis has floated all kinds of changes to Disney's area, from building a state prison on bordering land, to imposing new taxes, tolls, and ride regulations. Disney has retaliated in numerous ways, including by trying to create a loophole to retain power.

DeSantis made it clear during Friday's speech, which was before a homeschooling crowd, that he'll keep pushing on the matter, declaring, "I'm not backing down."

"We run the state of Florida," he said. "They do not run the state of Florida. It is wrong to sexualize children, it's wrong to put it in your programming, and it's wrong to try to force that in our schools."

Walt Disney World did not respond to Insider's request for a response about the polling. Critics on the left are deeply concerned about the schools' law chilling speech and making LGBTQ parents, teachers, and students feel unwelcome. It has already led to confusion and book removals from school libraries.

Republican critics, for their part, previously told Insider that DeSantis' actions were discordant with the party's orthodoxy, given that the governor used state power to punish free speech. They also said they thought it would hurt DeSantis' prospects in a general election.

Outside polls bolster the argument that battling Disney is a winning issue for DeSantis. An April Reuters/Ipsos poll found 64% of Republicans said DeSantis was right to roll back Disney's special privileges. Another recent poll, from Harvard CAPS/Harris, found 73% of Republicans and 54% of Independents support the governor limiting Disney's autonomy in Florida.

DeSantis has frequently said during speeches that he doesn't look at polls to determine his stance on policy. Hal Lambert, who attended a Miami kickoff fundraiser for the governor this week, and is the founder of investment advisory firm Point Bridge Capital, said the purpose of the campaign sharing the data was to show donors they needn't be concerned about the Disney fight becoming a liability in the primary.

"I don't think that the average person sees it as a negative," Lambert said. "People are tired of these corporations pushing their agenda on the American people. When you start doing it to families, and then publicly attacking officials who are simply trying to rein in some activity, people are fed up with it."

Indeed, the Disney issue doesn't appear to have dissuaded major donors. When combining this week's calling efforts with online donations, the DeSantis campaign raised $8.2 million in the fist 24 hours of the campaign. Some of the funding was for the primary and some for the general election, but it outraised President Joe Biden's $6.3 million during the first 24 hours when he launched his campaign in 2019.

"This is not a winning issue for Trump or the Democrats," Lambert said. "I suspect they're going to drop this because it's not going to get traction for them the way they want, which is to be negative toward DeSantis."