October 2, 2015

Contrasting Partisan Perspectives on Campaign 2016

In a Shift, Republicans Now Prefer ‘New Ideas’ to ‘Experience’

Survey Report

GOP Voters Now Prefer 'New Ideas' to Experience; Democrats are DividedWith four months to go before the first presidential nomination contests, Republican and Democratic voters have sharply different perspectives on their parties’ campaigns – from the qualities they value in candidates to the assessments of their presidential fields and the issues they prioritize.

Since March, the share of all registered voters who say it is more important for a presidential candidate to have “new ideas and a different approach” has surged – with virtually all of the increase coming among Republican and Republican-leaning voters. Today, by more than two-to-one (65% to 29%), Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters say it is more important that a candidate have new ideas than “experience and a proven record.” Just five months ago, GOP voters valued experience and a proven record over new ideas, 57% to 36%.

Opinion among Democratic voters continues to be more evenly divided: 50% say it is more important for a candidate to have experience and a proven record, while 42% view new ideas and a different approach as more important. This is little changed from March (46% experience, 49% new ideas).

How Possible Republican and Democratic Primary Voters Assess Candidates' PositionsThe latest national survey by Pew Research Center, conducted Sept. 22-27 among 1,502 adults, including 1,136 registered voters, gauges the impact of various issue positions on the preferences of possible Republican and Democratic primary voters.

Opposition to the Iran nuclear agreement resonates strongly with possible Republican primary voters: 69% say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who wants to end the nuclear agreement, while just 14% say they would be less likely to favor such a candidate; 14% say this would not be a major factor in their vote.

A majority of GOP voters (56%) say they would be more likely to support a candidate who wants to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood; just 18% would be less likely to support such a candidate. About half (53%) say they would be more likely to back a candidate who wants to deploy U.S. ground forces to fight ISIS (22% less likely).

Opinion among possible GOP primary voters is more divided over a candidate who wants to deport all immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally (43% more likely, 29% less likely) or wants to compromise with members of the Democratic Party (41% more likely, 27% less likely).  And nearly as many Republican voters say they would be less likely (34%) as more likely (31%) to support a candidate who wants to raise taxes on wealthy Americans; 34% say this would not be a major factor.

About six-in-ten possible Democratic primary voters (61%) say they would be more likely to support a candidate who offers policies similar to the Obama administration; just 12% would be less likely to support such a candidate and 26% say this would not be a major factor in their vote. Nearly as many Democratic voters (60%) say they would be more likely to support a candidate who will compromise with Republicans (14% less likely).

Economy Remains Top Campaign IssueBy 48% to 16%, possible Democratic primary voters say they would be more likely, rather than less likely, to support a candidate who wants to cut the size of large banks and financial institutions. By a comparable margin (45% to 19%), Democratic voters would be more likely to support a candidate who wants to expand U.S. trade agreements with other nations. About four-in-ten Democratic voters (41%) say they would be more likely to support a candidate who backs the Iran nuclear agreement, 27% say they would be less likely, and 25% say it would not be a major factor.

The hierarchy of issues that voters rate as most important has changed little over the past few election cycles. About eight-in-ten registered voters (83%) say the economy will be very important in their voting decisions while about seven-in-ten view health care (73%) and terrorism (71%) as very important.

There are significant differences between Republican and Democratic voters over the importance of all eight issues included in the survey. By far the biggest partisan gap is over the importance of the environment as a voting issue – 74% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters say the environment will be very important; only half as many Republican and Republican leaning-voters (37%) say the same.

Republicans More Satisfied With Their Field Than in 2007, 2011The survey finds that Republican voters continue to give their field of presidential candidates higher ratings than at comparable points during the last two presidential campaigns. Meanwhile, Democratic voters are less positive about their party’s field than at about the same point in 2007, the last election in which the party had a contested nomination.

Early on, GOP Voters Are More EngagedNearly six-in-ten (59%) Republican and Republican leaning voters say they have an excellent or good impression of their party’s presidential candidates, which is little changed from May of this year (57%). In August 2011, 49% of Republican voters viewed the GOP presidential field positively; in October 2007, 50% had a favorable impression of the candidates as a group.

Democrats’ impressions of their party’s 2016 candidates also are little changed since May: 51% rate the party’s candidates as excellent or good; 54% said this in May. Democrats are less positive about the field than in October 2007, when 64% rated the field as either excellent or good.

And at this point, Republican voters also are more engaged in the campaign than they were at this stage in prior campaigns. Roughly eight-in-ten Republican voters (81%) say they have given a lot or some thought to the 2016 presidential candidates. That compares with 74% who gave at least some thought to the candidates in September 2011 and 69% who did so four years earlier.

Among Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters, 71% say they have given a lot or some thought to the candidates, which is nearly identical to the share who said this eight years ago (72% in September 2007).

Other Findings

Republicans are divided over Planned Parenthood. Among conservative Republicans and Republican leaners who indicate some likelihood of voting in a GOP primary, 69% say they would be more likely to support a candidate who wants to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Among moderate and liberal Republican voters, just 28% say they would be more likely to favor such a candidate. There also is a large ideological divide among Republicans over whether any budget agreement must eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood.

Democrats are divided over banks, Iran agreement. Among possible Democratic primary voters, more liberals (60%) than moderates or conservatives (38%) say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who wants to cut the size of large banks and financial institutions. About half of liberal Democratic voters (53%) say they would be more likely to support a candidate who backs the Iran agreement, compared with just 31% of moderate and conservative Democratic voters.

Immigration and the GOP campaign. In an open-ended question, 25% of possible Republican and Republican-leaning primary voters say Donald Trump is their first choice for the GOP nomination. Among GOP voters who say they would be more likely to support a candidate who wants to deport all immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally, 34% support Trump; among those who would be less likely to vote for such a candidate, Trump draws just 13%.

Voters want a candidate who shares their views. Majorities of both Republican voters (67%) and Democratic voters (65%) say it is more important to pick a candidate who comes closest to their views on the issues. Just 27% in both parties say it is more important to choose a candidate who has the best chance of winning next November.

Republicans Ideologically Divided in Views of Candidate Positions

How Possible Republican Primary Voters View Candidate PositionsReflecting Republicans’ overwhelming opposition to the Iran nuclear agreement, 69% of possible GOP primary voters say they would be more likely to support a candidate who wants to end the nuclear agreement. Just 14% say they would be less likely to support a candidate who takes this position.

Most possible GOP primary voters also say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who wants to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood (56%) and to use U.S. ground forces to fight ISIS (53%). Other candidate positions, including deporting all immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally and compromising with Democrats, have less appeal. And as many possible Republican primary voters say they would less likely (34%), as more likely (31%), to vote for a candidate who wants to raise taxes on wealthy Americans.

GOP voters are ideologically divided in their opinions about several of these candidate positions, but the largest gap by far is over ending federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Among conservative Republican voters, 69% say they would be more likely to support a candidate who wants to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood, compared with just 9% who would be less likely to support a candidate who takes this position. However, just 28% of moderate and liberal Republicans view this stance positively. A large majority of moderate and liberal Republicans (69%) say either they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who wants to end funding for Planned Parenthood (38%) or that it would not be a major factor in their vote (31%).

While there is broad opposition among Republicans to the Iran nuclear deal, more conservative Republican voters (74%) than moderates and liberals (56%) say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who wants to end the agreement. Republicans also are divided in views of a presidential candidate who will compromise with Democrats. Roughly half of moderate and liberal Republican voters (54%) would be more likely to support a candidate who will compromise with Democrats, compared with just 36% of conservative Republicans.

There are more modest ideological differences over support for deporting all immigrants in the U.S. illegally and raising taxes on the wealthy. On balance, conservative Republican voters say they would be more likely to support a candidate who wants to deport immigrants here illegally (45% more likely, 26% less likely). Moderate and liberal Republicans are divided (37% more likely, 39% less likely). Somewhat more moderate and liberal Republican voters (39%) than conservative Republican voters (27%) say they would be more likely to support a candidate who wants to raise taxes on wealthy Americans.

The only issue that does not divide possible Republican primary voters along ideological lines is the use of U.S. ground troops to fight ISIS: About half of conservative Republican voters (55%), and moderate liberal Republicans (47%), would be more likely to support a candidate who wanted to commit U.S. ground troops.

Wide Gaps Among Possible GOP Primary Voters in Views of Planned Parenthood Funding and Compromise With Democrats

 

Fewer Ideological Differences among Democrats

How Possible Democratic Primary Voters View Candidate PositionsAmong possible Democratic primary voters, there is broad support for a candidate who will offer policies and programs similar to the Obama administration (61% more likely, 12% less likely) and compromise with Republicans (60% more likely, 14% less likely).

Smaller percentages of possible Democratic primary voters would be more inclined to support a candidate who wants to cut the size of large banks and financial institutions (48% more likely, 16% less likely) and expand U.S. trade agreements with other nations (45%, 19%). And while 41% of possible Democratic voters say they would be more likely to support a candidate who backs the Iran nuclear agreement, 27% would be less likely to favor a candidate who takes this position.

Among liberal Democrats, 60% would be more likely to support a candidate who wants to cut the size of big banks, while just 11% would be less likely. By comparison, just 38% of conservative and moderate voters would more likely to favor a candidate who wants to reduce the size of big banks, and 20% would be less likely.

About half (53%) of liberal Democrats say they would more likely to vote for a candidate who supports the Iran agreement, compared with just 17% who would be less likely to vote for a candidate with this position. Moderate and liberal Democrats are divided: About as many say they would be less likely (37%) as more likely (31%) to support a candidate who supports the Iran nuclear agreement.

Democrats Ideologically Divided Over Candidate Support for Reducing Size of Large Banks, Iran Nuclear Agreement

GOP Split on Key Issues Associated With Candidate Support

At this stage of the 2016 presidential campaign, key issues divide both Republican and Democratic voters, and early candidate preferences reflect some of these cleavages.

GOP Voters' Splits Over Immigration, Taxing Wealthy Is Reflected in Vote Priorities and PreferencesWhen Republican and Republican-leaning voters are asked in an open-ended format (no names provided) for their first choice for the nomination, none of the 15 GOP candidates are named by more than 25% of those who may vote in the primary: 25% name Donald Trump, 16% name Ben Carson, both Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina are named by 8%, 6% name Ted Cruz and 4% choose Jeb Bush. Other candidates are named by 2% or fewer. A quarter (25%) of potential Republican primary voters do not mention a first choice today, four months before the first caucuses and primaries.

The differences seen among Republican voters over views on immigration and taxing wealthy Americans are reflected in voter preferences: Among the 43% of GOP potential primary voters who say they are more likely to support a candidate who wants to “deport all immigrants now living in the country illegally,” 34% volunteer Trump as their preferred candidate. Just 13% of the roughly three-in-ten who say they are less likely to support someone who advocates for deportation volunteer Trump as their first choice.

GOP Voters' Views of 'New Ideas,' Experience and the 2016 CampaignOverall, 66% of GOP potential primary voters say immigration is a very important issue in their decision about who to vote for in 2016. However, 84% of those who say they would be more likely to support a candidate who wants to deport all undocumented immigrants say the issue is central to their presidential vote. By comparison, among Republicans who would be less likely to support a candidate who favors deportation of undocumented immigrants, just 44% say immigration is important to their vote.

Trump also garners more support among the nearly one-third of possible GOP primary voters who would be more inclined to support a candidate in favor of raising taxes on wealthy Americans. In the survey, conducted before Trump announced his tax plan on Sept. 28, 35% of those who are more likely to support a candidate who wants to increase taxes on the wealthy name Trump as their first choice; by comparison, 16% of those who would be less likely to support a candidate who backed increasing taxes on the wealthy named Trump as their preferred candidate.

Overall, far more possible Republican primary voters say it is more important for a presidential candidate to have new ideas and a different approach (66%) than experience and a proven record (29%).  Trump fares better among GOP primary voters who value new ideas. A third (33%) of those who prefer new ideas and a different approach name Trump as their first choice for the nomination; among those who say experience is more important, just 8% choose Trump.

 Key Demographics and Current Republican Primary Preferences

Support for the GOP Candidates Varies by Income, Education, Gender, Religiosity

Democratic Voters’ Preferences, Views on Banks and ‘New Ideas’

Democratic Divide on Cutting Size of Banks Seen in 2016 PreferencesAmong Democratic and Democratic-leaning potential primary voters, 45% name Hillary Clinton as their first choice, with Bernie Sanders mentioned by 24% and 8% mentioning Joe Biden. Other candidates are named by 2% or fewer. In this open-ended question, 21% of possible Democratic primary voters do not currently offer a first choice.

Democrats' Views of 'New Ideas,' Experience and the 2016 CampaignThough Clinton is named by more Democratic voters overall, among the roughly half (48%) of the Democratic electorate that would be more likely to support a candidate who wants to cut the size of large banks and financial institutions, support is more divided (38% name Clinton as their favored candidate, 34% name Sanders). Among those who say they would either be less likely to support a candidate who favored reducing the size of banks, or that this would not matter to their vote, 51% prefer Clinton, while 15% prefer Sanders.

Democratic voters differ from Republicans in their views of whether it is more important for a presidential candidate to have experience and a proven record or new ideas and a different approach. About half of potential Democratic primary voters (53%) view experience as more important, while 39% prioritize new ideas.

Most Democratic voters (56%) who see experience as more important name Clinton as their first choice. By contrast, Democrats who cite new ideas as more important are divided, with 33% naming Clinton and 35% choosing Sanders.

Key Demographics and Current Democratic Primary Preferences

Support for Democratic Candidates Varies by Age, Race

Partisan Divisions over Importance of Campaign Issues

Wide Partisan Gaps Over Importance of Environment, Deficit, Health CareRepublican and Democratic voters have substantial differences over the importance of key issues in the 2016 campaign. The widest gap is over the environment: Twice as many Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters (74%) as Republicans and Republican leaners (37%) say the environment is very important to their vote.

Health care is the only other issue in the survey that significantly more Democrats (82%) than Republicans (66%) view as very important. GOP voters are more likely than Democrats to rate six other issues, including the budget deficit, terrorism and the economy, as very important.

Nearly eight-in-ten Republican and Republican-leaning voters (78%) say the federal budget deficit is very important, compared with 58% of Democrats and Democratic leaners. Republicans are 15 percentage points more likely than Democrats to view terrorism and 12 points more likely to view foreign policy as very important. More Republicans than Democrats also see the economy, immigration are very important and abortion as very important voting issues.

There are ideological differences in both parties over the importance of some issues. Among Republican voters, nearly half of moderates and liberals (48%) view the environment as very important, compared with just 28% of conservatives. Among Democrats, terrorism is viewed as much more important by conservatives and moderates (79% very important) than liberals (47%). Conservative and moderate Democrats also are more likely to rate the federal budget deficit as very important (68% vs. 44% of liberals).

More Important to Voters that Candidates Share Their Positions

Voters Prioritize Positions More Than ElectabilityFew Republican and Democratic registered voters say a candidates’ electability is more important than shared issue positions in deciding who to support in next year’s primary elections and caucuses.

About two thirds of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (67%) and a similar share of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (65%) say it is more important that a primary candidate share their positions on the issues than be able to beat the other party’s nominee. This is similar to opinion in the fall of 2007, when most potential voters in both parties had a similar desire to support the candidate who shared their issue positions in the 2008 primaries.

 

 

Views of the Democratic, Republican Fields

Moderate Dems Have Lukewarm View of FieldOverall, 59% of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters say the candidates running for the Republican nomination are excellent or good. This compares to 51% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters who say the same about the Democratic candidates.

In particular, conservative and moderate Democrats are expressing less satisfaction about the field of Democratic candidates than they have in the past. Currently, 45% of conservative and moderate Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters view the Democratic candidates running for the nomination as either excellent or good. At this point in the campaign in 2007, fully 62% of conservative and moderate Democratic registered voters had positive assessments of the Democratic field.

Liberal Democrats have typically been more likely than their conservative and moderate counterparts to say that the field of candidates running for their party’s nomination is excellent or good. However, the 26-percentage point gap between the positive assessments of liberal Democratic registered voters (71%) and conservative and moderate Democratic registered voters (45%) is the widest it has been in recent election cycles.

Seven-in-ten (70%) conservative Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters say the field of candidates running for their party’s nomination are excellent or good. A smaller majority (56%) of moderate and liberal Republican registered voters also offer a positive assessment. Both conservative and more moderate Republicans are more satisfied with their party’s field of candidates than they were in September 2007.