American Voter Dissatisfaction with Two Likely Presidential Nominees Highest in Decades
By Dan McCue, Courthouse News Service
(CN) - The 2016 presidential campaign has inspired voter strong interest, but as the two major political parties prepare for their respective nominating conventions, satisfaction with the candidates is the lowest it's been in decades, the Pew Research Center said Thursday.
The center's analysis offers a bleak picture of voters' impressions of the presidential campaign and the choices they face in November.
While both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump continue to draw thousands to their respective campaign rallies, fewer than half of registered voters in both parties — 43% of Democrats and 40% of Republicans — say they are satisfied with their choices for president, the Pew Research Center said.
What's more, the center found that about four-in-10 voters (41%) say they will have a difficult time choosing between Trump and Clinton because they believe neither would be a good president.
That's the highest level of dissatisfaction in the Democratic and Republican nominees since Vice President Al Gore faced then-former Texas Gov. George W. Bush in 2000 -- an election ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial Bush v. Gore (pdf) decision.
By comparison, only 11 percent of voters contacted by Pew researchers believe either candidate would make a good president -- the lowest percentage in five presidential election cycles.
Plumbing the reasons behind these woeful numbers, the Pew researchers found -- no surprise, really -- that this year's presidential contest is widely viewed as being excessively negative with little, if any focus on the concerns of real Americans.
Just 27% of voters feel the campaign is "focused on important policy debates" -- seven points lower than researchers found in December, before the primaries began.
When it comes to the issues at the forefront of voters' minds, the economy tops the list, with 84% of voters saying it is very important to their vote.
Terrorism also ranks high across the political spectrum.
In another sign of voter discontent, large numbers of the supporters of both Trump and Clinton view their choice as more of a vote against the opposing candidate than an expression of support for their candidate.
More than half of Trump supporters (55%) view their vote more as a vote against Clinton, while just 41% view it more as a vote for Trump. Among GOP candidates since 2000, only Mitt Romney has drawn as much negative support, Pew said.
In 2012, 58% of Romney supporters saw their vote more as a vote against Barack Obama.
Clinton's supporters are divided — 50% view their vote more as a vote for their own candidate, while 48% say it is more a vote against Trump.
But that is the highest share of a Democratic candidate's supporters viewing their choice as more a vote "against" the opposing candidate dating back to 2000.
In 2008, just a quarter of Obama's supporters said their vote was more a vote against John McCain than a vote for Obama.
However, for all this, voters can't seem to get enough of the coverage of the presidential contest.
According to Pew researchers, 80% of registered voters say they have given "quite a lot" of thought to the election, the highest share at this point in any campaign since 1992, when President George H.W. Bush was preparing for a November showdown with former Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.
Four years ago, 67% of voters said they had given a lot of thought to the election, and at this point in 2008 — the last time both parties had contested nominations — 72% did so.
"In part, this is a reflection of the widespread belief that a great deal is at stake in the upcoming election," the study says. "In every campaign since 2004, majorities of voters have said "it really matters" who wins presidential contests, but currently 74% express this view, up 11 percentage points from the same point in the campaigns four and eight years ago."
The bombast of Donald Trump on the Republican side, and Sen. Bernie Sanders surprisingly successful insurgent campaign in the Democratic contest have also helped spark -- and sustain -- interest in the electorate.
Currently, the Pew researchers say, 77% of respondents say the campaign has been "interesting," while just 17% describe it as "dull."
The share calling the campaign interesting is nearly double the percentage saying this four years ago (39%) and the highest during any campaign dating back 20 years, the researchers said.
The new national survey by Pew Research Center was conducted June 15-26 among 2,245 adults, including 1,655 registered voters.
For all the uncertainty and dissatisfaction identified by the survey, Clinton would hold the edge is the contest was being decided today.
In a two-way contest, 51% of registered voters said they would support Clinton or lean toward her, while 42% support or lean toward Trump.
In a three-way contest, including Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, 45% favor Clinton, 36% support Trump and 11% back Johnson.
The study also identified what the researchers described as "stark" racial and ethnic differences in candidate support.
Trump, who has tapped into a wholly unexpected vein of anger on the campaign trail leads among white, non-Hispanic voters (51%-42%), while Clinton has an overwhelming advantage among African Americans (91%-7%).
Clinton also holds a wide, 66%-24% advantage among Hispanic voters.
This is on par with Barack Obama's lead among Hispanics at similar points in the past two campaigns, the researchers said.
A separate sampling looking specifically at Hispanic attitudes toward the candidates can be found here.
The survey found Clinton is widely viewed as more personally qualified and possessing better judgment than Trump.
A majority of registered voters (56%) say the phrase "personally qualified to be president" better describes Clinton than Trump; just 30% say the phrase better describes Trump. Far more voters also say the phrase "would use good judgment in a crisis" better describes Clinton (53%) than Trump (36%).
However, neither candidate has an advantage on honesty: 40% say the phrase "honest and truthful" better describes Clinton, 37% say it applies more to Trump and 20% volunteer that it better describes neither candidate.
But perhaps the most damning finding for either candidate relates to Trump and his support among the GOP rank and file.
The researchers found a majority of Republicans remain skeptical that their party will unite behind its presumptive nominee.
Just 38% of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters say the party will "solidly unite" behind Trump; 54% say disagreements in the party will keep many Republicans from supporting him.
What's more, these views are virtually unchanged since March, the height of the GOP primary contest.
By contrast, 72% of Democratic voters say their party will solid unite behind Clinton; in March, 64% expected their party to unite behind Clinton if she became the nominee.
To Learn More:
2016 Campaign: Strong Interest, Widespread Dissatisfaction (Pew Research Center)
Primary Process Is No Exercise in Democracy (by Jeremy W. Peters, New York Times)
Don’t Like Clinton or Trump? Just Shut Up and Watch TV (by David Wallechinsky, AllGov)
More Americans Support Bernie Sanders than Donald Trump, but Trump Gets 23 Times as much TV Coverage (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)
Conservatives Decide Trump Qualifies as a Fascist (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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