New Hampshire voters have a blunt message for Chris Christie.
Get off the island.
In an exclusive USA TODAY/Boston Globe/Suffolk University poll in New Hampshire, 41% of likely Republican primary voters who watched last week's debate cited the former New Jersey governor as the winner, or rather loser, in a question of which of the seven participants should drop out of the presidential race first.
That's particularly bad news for Christie, who has centered his campaign in New Hampshire. The first-in-the-nation primary is open to independents as well as Republicans, and the state's libertarian instincts − the motto on its license plates is "Live Free or Die" − has sometimes allowed long-shot contenders to do well.
At the debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, the candidates balked when moderator Dana Perino of Fox News asked them to name which of their colleagues on stage should be "voted off the island" − that is, drop out of the race.
Voters were less reluctant to answer.
"Chris Christie is very entertaining," Richard Aliano, 77, a retired lawyer from Wolfeboro who is supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, said after being polled. "But I don't think he should be the candidate."
The poll of 500 likely Republican voters by landline and cellphone Sept. 28 to Oct. 2 has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. The sample of 202 respondents who watched the debate has an error margin of 6.9 points.
Trump's challengers are counting on the opening Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary to provide the sort of boost that might loosen the former president's grip on the nomination. The caucuses are set for Jan. 15, and the likely date for the New Hampshire primary is Jan. 23.
At the moment, Trump, at 44%, holds a formidable lead of 31 percentage points in New Hampshire, according to an average of recent statewide polls by Realclearpolitics.com, although former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley has climbed a bit to second place, at 13%. DeSantis has sagged to 10.5%.
Here are some other tidbits from USA TODAY's statewide survey.
Are people tuning into the debates?
In the poll, 4 in 10 said they watched the last debate, a significant number given that the primary is three months away and there were other things they could have chosen to do, from streaming videos to attending back-to-school nights.
Six in 10 said they didn't watch it.
"For two reasons," said Lynne Chase, 63, a registered nurse and an independent from Grantham who was among those surveyed. "It's prohibitively late for me to stay up when I get up so early for my duty at the hospital." The second reason, she said, "is the debates are less of a debate in the traditional sense of debate and becoming more of a clown show both on the Democratic and Republican side."
They'd like Donald Trump on stage next time
Those who watched the second debate would like Donald Trump to show up for the third one.
A 55% majority said the former president should participate in the forum next month in Miami; 37% said he needn't bother.
"I think he should but I don't think it's really necessary," said Joyce Briand, 62, a former licensed nursing assistant and a Republican from Newport. "He's got so many people backing him."
That was Trump's reasoning, too, in skipping the first two debates.
Aid to Ukraine divides GOP voters.
The question of whether to continue U.S. aid to Ukraine in its war against Russia divided the candidates on stage. It also divided the New Hampshire voters who tuned in.
Nearly half, 48%, supported phasing out assistance to Ukraine; 39% wanted to continue the aid. Just 9% endorsed increasing it.
"Phase it out," Briand said. "They're sending so much money over there and it's leaving us with nothing."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Should Chris Christie exit the race? Many New Hampshire voters think so