Oct 18, 2016

From the Archives

Voters Disagree on Which Candidate Is More Presidential

It’s no surprise to discover most Americans are struggling to muster enthusiasm about the presidential candidate they plan to vote for. A new survey from Barna Group not only reveals the numbers behind that lack of enthusiasm, but also identifies which candidate is seen as having more of the qualities expected of a president. What may be a surprise is that born again Christians differ dramatically from all other adults in their view of the candidates when it comes to eight specific personal qualities that people expect in a president.

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Who Is Less Undesirable?
When likely voters were asked why they support a particular candidate, the inescapable outcome was that few people are voting for a candidate they embrace; most of them are so aghast at who is running that they are voting against candidates rather than for them.

Among the likely voters who plan to support Hillary Clinton, only 40% say they will do so because they like her. Another 30% are choosing Clinton because they dislike Donald Trump, and nearly as many (27%) pick her because they see her as “the lesser of two evils.”

Likely voters who say they will vote for Donald Trump are no more complimentary of their candidate. Just one-third (33%) say they really like Trump while 40% say he will get their vote because they really dislike Hillary Clinton, and one-quarter (23%) say he is simply the “lesser of two evils.”

While relatively few likely voters plan to support one of the third-party or independent candidates, those who do overwhelmingly indicate (84%) such a move is because they dislike both Clinton and Trump so much. Only one out of every eight supporters of one of the minor candidates (12%) is voting that way because they like that candidate.

Faith leanings affected these views. Overall, 43% of the born again Christians supporting Hillary Clinton really like her while 41% do not (and will vote for Trump). Just 26% of those born again Christians backing Donald Trump say they really like him while 32% of the Clinton votes explain their Clinton vote by such distaste. In other words, neither candidate is particularly well-liked by born again Christians.

Among likely voters who are not born again—a segment that constitutes a majority of the nation’s population—the picture is a bit different. Equal numbers of the supporters of each major-party candidate (40%) say they support their choice because they like that candidate. Among the Clinton voters, 30% are choosing her due to their dislike for Trump, while 40% of the Trump supporters back him out of dislike for Clinton.

Among the people who intend to vote for Hillary Clinton, distaste for Trump is surprisingly similar across the major faith segments, averaging 32% who support her out of their dislike for him. Among the Trump supporters, however, things are different. Eight out of ten atheists and agnostics who support Trump—a tiny share of his vote total—back him primarily because of their dislike for Clinton.

Clinton Outperforms Trump on Attributes
The survey also examines which candidate voters feel best embodies each of eight unique qualities. Depending on the faith leanings of the respondent, the outcomes vary dramatically.

Looking at the likely voter population overall, Hillary Clinton is more likely than Donald Trump to be associated with six of the eight qualities examined, with both candidates equally likely to reflect the other two qualities.

Clinton was by far deemed the candidate who is “presidential (42% for Clinton, 23% for Trump); “respected by other leaders” (39% vs. 17%, respectively); “able to work with people who have different views” (44% vs. 22%, respectively); and being an “effective communicator” (36% vs. 25%). The Democratic candidate is slightly more likely than her New York rival to be deemed a “strategic thinker” (35% selected Clinton, 30% chose Trump) and “authentically Christian” (18% vs. 12%).

Likely voters indicate that both candidates equally fit the descriptions “trustworthy” (25% for each) and “patriotic” (32% for Clinton, 29% for Trump, a gap within the boundaries of the survey sampling error).

Reflecting the discouragement of voters over their choice of candidates, neither Trump nor Clinton amasses a majority of voters identifying them as the embodiment of any of the eight attributes tested.

It is also worth noting that for several of the descriptions posed for consideration a large proportion of likely voters say neither candidate fits the bill. For instance, four out of ten likely voters say that neither candidate is trustworthy or authentically Christian. Three out of ten hold that neither of them is respected by other leaders.

Faith Commitment Affects Perception of Candidate Attributes
As might be expected, perceptions of the candidate qualities are seen differently based on the faith inclinations of voters.

Born again Christians feel four of the attributes best describe Trump—trustworthy, effective communicator, strategic thinker and patriotic. They are divided regarding which candidate better reflects each of the other four attributes. Among born again adults, Clinton is not considered to be the primary champion of any of the eight attributes.

About half of the born again segment, however, says that neither candidate could be accurately described as “authentically Christian.” In addition, about one-third of the segment says neither candidate could be described as presidential, trustworthy or respected by other leaders.

Among the non-born again voters, Clinton is the candidate chosen as most representative of each of the eight descriptions. She is deemed the best reflection of four of the descriptions by twice as many (or more) of the non-born again voters. Those include viewing her as the one who is more presidential, respected by leaders, able to work with people who have different views, and authentically Christian. Even so, a significant number of non-born again voters see neither candidate as embodying many of the attributes—particularly when it comes to trustworthiness and being authentically Christian.

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Adding to Voters’ Frustration
Noting that a large majority of Americans were already frustrated with the nation’s political situation prior to this election, George Barna, special analyst for the 2016 election polling, points out that this election has solidified that widespread point-of-view.

“We have not had an election in more than a half-century in which such large proportions of voters were turned off by both candidates,” says Barna, who is serving as a special political analyst for Barna Group during this election cycle. “Currently, six out of ten Americans plan to vote for a candidate they don’t care for primarily because they are so disgusted by the other option. This election represents an ideal opportunity for a third-party candidate to burst onto the scene, but the data show that few voters like the third-party candidates any better.”

Barna responds to the idea that perhaps Americans have unrealistic expectations of presidential candidates. “Granted, some people yearn for the perfect candidate, but it does not seem that such a lofty goal is underlying most peoples’ disenchantment with the 2016 candidates. Enormous numbers of voters simply are not convinced that either of the major-party candidates is presidential, trustworthy, respectable, or ethical.

“Those characteristics are very important to the American people,” Barna continues. “Judging by historical standards it does not seem that it is asking too much for candidates to possess those qualities. It is a clear reflection of the divided nature of the country that these were the two candidates who earned their party’s nomination by winning the most votes during the primaries but now are having a difficult time persuading the rest of the nation that they are worthy candidates.”

About the Research
This research was conducted by the Barna Group using an online survey with a nationally representative sample of adults 18 and older. A total of 1,023 adults were interviewed, resulting in 908 registered voters and 627 likely voters participating in the survey. The surveys were completed online from September 12 through September 19, 2016. The estimated maximum sampling error for the aggregate sample is plus or minus 4 percentage points at the 95-percent confidence level. The sampling error estimate is higher for subgroups within the total sample.

Born again: Have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and believe that, when they die, they will go to heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior.

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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