June 2, 2011

Republican Candidates Stir Little Enthusiasm

Section 2: Candidate Traits and Experience

Military service and past experience as a governor or a business executive are seen as positive traits for a presidential candidate. About half (49%) say they would be more likely to support a candidate who has served in the military, 37% would be more likely to support a candidate who has been a governor, and 35% say the same about a candidate who has been a business executive. The proportion saying they would be more likely to vote for a candidate with experience as a business executive has risen seven points, from 28%, since 2007.

The public expresses more mixed views of a candidate with extensive Washington experience – 26% say they would be more likely to support a candidate who has been an elected official in Washington for many years, while about as many (25%) would be less likely. This is a change from 2007, when 35% said they would be more likely to support a candidate with long Washington experience, compared with 15% who said they would be less likely.

Lacking any prior experience in elected office, however, continues to be seen as a liability. Roughly half (51%) say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who has never held elective office, which is little changed from four years ago (56%).

There are wide partisan differences in views about a candidate’s prior experience, as well as substantial differences between Republicans and who agree with the Tea Party and those who do not.

More Republicans than Democrats value military service, business experience and experience as a governor. About two-thirds of Republicans (68%) say they would be more likely to support a candidate with prior military service, compared with just 36% of Democrats. Similarly, more Republicans than Democrats say prior business experience would make them more likely to vote for a candidate (51% vs. 20%). This gap has grown since 2007 as more Republicans now say they value business experience in a candidate; four years ago, 38% of Republicans and 21% of Democrats said they would be more likely to support a candidate who had been a business executive. The current survey also finds that more Republicans than Democrats say they would be more likely to support a candidate who has been a governor (by 43% to 30%).

Only a quarter (25%) of Republicans say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate with lengthy Washington experience, while 34% say they would be less likely to support such a candidate. In 2007, 40% of Republicans said they would be more likely to support a long-time Washington politician while only 17% said they would be less likely.

Democrats also have a less positive view of long-time Washington elected officials than they did in 2007. Currently, 29% say they would be more likely to vote for such a candidate, compared with 15% who would be less likely. Four years ago, 39% of Democrats were more likely to back a long-time D.C. politician and 10% less likely.

Tea Party Divide in GOP

Tea Party Republicans are far less likely than other Republicans to value experience in Washington and are more likely to say they would support candidates who have been a governor or a business executive.

A majority (51%) of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who agree with the Tea Party say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who has been an elected official in Washington for many years, compared with only 26% of Republicans who disagree with or have no opinion of the Tea Party. However, Tea Party Republicans are no more likely to support candidates who have never held elected office.

A majority of Tea Party Republicans (55%) say they would be more likely to support a candidate who has been a governor, compared with 38% of non-Tea Party Republicans (the majority of whom say it would make no difference). There is a similar difference on business experience – 64% of Republicans who agree with the Tea Party say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who has been a business executive while only 42% of other Republicans say this.

Extramarital Affair Viewed Negatively

The public has a more negative view of a candidate’s past infidelity than in 2007 – 46% now say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who had an extramarital affair in the past while 49% say this would not matter to them. In 2007, 39% said they would be less likely to support a candidate who had an affair while the majority (56%) said it would not matter to them.

More Republicans (57%) than Democrats (42%) say they would be less likely to support a candidate who has had an extramarital affair. The gap was much wider in 2007 when 62% of Republicans and only 25% of Democrats said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who had an extramarital affair.

The public continues to be far more forgiving of a past divorce – only 11% say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who has been divorced while most (85%) say this wouldn’t matter to them. Republicans are somewhat more likely than Democrats to view a candidate’s divorce negatively.

Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) say it would not matter to them if a candidate has used marijuana in the past, while 24% say they would be less likely to support such a candidate. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to view past marijuana use as a negative (35% vs. 20%).

Little Change in View of a Mormon Candidate

A substantial majority of Americans (68%) say it would not matter to them if a presidential candidate was Mormon. A quarter (25%) says they would be less likely to support a Mormon, while 5% say they would be more likely to support a Mormon candidate. These opinions are little changed from February 2007 (64% said this would not matter, 30% less likely, 2% more likely).

Politically, more Democrats than Republicans say they would be less likely to support a Mormon candidate. Liberal Democrats stand out, with 41% saying they would be less likely to support a Mormon candidate. Only about a quarter or fewer in other groups say this.

There also are differences by religious affiliation. About a third of white evangelical Protestants (34%) say they would less likely to support a Mormon candidate, compared with 24% of the religiously unaffiliated, and just 19% of white mainline Protestants and about the same percentage of white Catholics (16%). These opinions have changed little since 2007.

Mitt Romney loses support among voters who are less likely to vote for candidate who is Mormon. Among this group, only 31% say there is at least some chance they would vote for Mitt Romney, while 63% say there is no chance they would vote for him.

Among those who say it would not matter if a candidate was Mormon, 57% say there is at least some chance they would vote for Romney, while 39% say there is no chance they would vote for him. There was a similar gap in February 2007, although more now have heard of Romney than had in 2007, and more now say there is at least some chance they will vote for him than did so then.

Greater Acceptance of a Homosexual Candidate

The public has grown far more accepting of a presidential candidate who is homosexual. In the current survey, 33% say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who is homosexual, while 62% say it would not matter. In 2007, 46% said they would be less likely to support a homosexual candidate and 51% said it would not matter.

Men are now only slightly less likely than women to express a negative view of a homosexual candidate (36% vs. 31%). In 2007, a majority of men (53%) said they would be less likely to support a candidate who is homosexual, compared with 39% of women. The age gap between the oldest and the youngest also has narrowed.

There has been a decline across most groups in the percentages saying they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who is homosexual. Still, white evangelical Protestants (65% less likely), conservative Republicans (58%) and those who attend religious services weekly or more frequently (48%) continue to express the most negative views of a presidential candidate who is homosexual. Majorities across nearly all other demographic, political and religious groups say it would not matter if a candidate is homosexual.

Gender, Race and Ethnicity Not Major Factors

The public overwhelmingly says that a candidate being black (89%), Hispanic (80%) or a woman (77%) would not matter in their decision to support that person for president. There are only modest partisan differences in these opinions; at least three-quarters of Republicans, Democrats and independents say these characteristics would not matter to them.

More women (18%) than men (10%) say they are more likely to support a woman candidate. Similarly, blacks and Hispanics are far more likely than whites to say they would support a candidate who is black or Hispanic. One-in-five blacks (20%) say a candidate being black would make them more likely to support that person. Even more Hispanics (37%) say they would be more likely to support a candidate who is Hispanic.

Cite this publication: “Republican Candidates Stir Little Enthusiasm.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (June 2, 2011) http://www.people-press.org/2011/06/02/republican-candidates-stir-little-enthusiasm/, accessed on July 22, 2014.