January 20, 2016

Voters Skeptical That 2016 Candidates Would Make Good Presidents

Highly polarized reactions to Trump, Clinton becoming president

Survey Report

A year before the next president takes office, voters are skeptical that any of the leading 2016 candidates would make a good president. Moreover, of nine candidates included in the survey, far more voters say each would make a “terrible” than “great” president.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Jan. 7-14 among 2,009 adults, including 1,525 registered voters, finds that 35% of voters say that Hillary Clinton would make either a good or great president, with 11% saying she would be great. More voters (44%) say Clinton would be either poor or terrible in the White House; 28% say she would be terrible. About one-in-five (18%) think Clinton would make an average president.

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Nearly a third (31%) say Donald Trump would be either a good or great president; 11% say he would be great. Roughly half (52%) think Trump would make a poor or terrible president, with 38% saying he would be terrible. Just 12% think Trump would be an average president.

Views of other candidates as potential presidents – Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio – are more mixed. Three-in-ten (30%) say Sanders would be either a good or great president, while 35% say he would be poor or terrible, and 22% say he would be average. About as many voters say Cruz would be great or good in the White House (28%) as say he would be poor or terrible (31%); 28% say he would be average. Similarly, voters have divided views of Rubio as president: 25% say he would be good or great, 28% poor or terrible and 33% average.

Views of four other GOP candidates as potential presidents – Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and John Kasich – are more negative than positive, on balance.

Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters see several GOP candidates as potentially good or great presidents. A majority (56%) of Republican voters say Trump would make a good or great president, while 22% say he would be poor or terrible, and 18% say he would make an average president.

More Republican voters also say Cruz would be a good or great president (53%) than either a poor or terrible president (13%), or an average one (25%).

The possibility of Rubio and Carson becoming president also is viewed more positively than negatively by Republican voters. More than four-in-ten (44%) say Rubio would make either a good or great president, while 17% say he would be poor or terrible and 30% think he would make an average president. The prospect of Carson becoming president elicits similar reactions among GOP voters (44% good or great; 18% poor or terrible; 30% average).

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Republican voters are less positive over the possibility of Christie, Kasich or Bush becoming president. While 32% say Christie would make a good or great president, nearly as many (26%) say he would be poor or terrible; about a third (34%) say Christie would be an average president. While 17% say Kasich would make a good or great president, 25% say he would be poor or terrible, and 31% think he would be average; 27% of Republican voters express no opinion about Kasich possibly becoming president, the highest percentage among GOP candidates.

About a quarter (26%) of Republican voters say Bush would make a good or great president; more say Bush would be either a poor or terrible president (36%), or an average president (35%).

Among Democratic voters, far more react positively to the possibility of Clinton than Sanders becoming president. A majority (64%) of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters say Clinton would be either a good (43%) or great (21%) president. Just 11% say she would be poor or terrible, while 23% say she would be average.

About half of Democratic voters (51%) say Sanders would either make a good or great president; 13% say he would be poor or terrible and 26% say he would be average (11% of Democrats expressed no opinion of Sanders as a possible president).

2016 candidates: the view from the other side

1-20-2016_03Democrats react negatively to the prospect of all of the GOP candidates in the White House. But their views of a potential Trump presidency are particularly intense.

Fully 64% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters say Trump would make a terrible president. That is by far the highest percentage among the seven GOP candidates in the survey.

Liberal Democratic voters have overwhelmingly negative reactions to Trump as a possible president.  About nine-in-ten (92%) say he would be either poor or terrible, with 78% describing Trump as a terrible potential president. Among conservative and moderate Democrats, 76% say Trump would be a poor or terrible president, with 56% saying he would be terrible.

Democrats have more negative than positive reactions to the other GOP candidates possibly becoming president, but no more than about a quarter of Democrats say any of these candidates would make terrible presidents.

1-20-2016_04Among Republican voters, the prospect of Hillary Clinton becoming president elicits strongly negative reactions. Nearly six-in-ten Republicans (57%) say Clinton would be a terrible president, while 23% say she would be poor. Most Republicans (60%) also say Sanders would be a poor or terrible president, but only about a third (34%) say Sanders would be terrible.

Conservative Republicans have particularly negative views of a potential Clinton presidency. About six-in-ten conservative Republican voters (63%) say Clinton would make a terrible president, compared with 44% of moderate and liberal Republicans.

GOP voters’ views of Republican candidates as president

The prospect of several GOP candidates becoming president is viewed more positively by conservative Republican voters than by the party’s moderate and liberal voters, with the biggest differences in views of Cruz, Trump and Carson. (For detailed tables on how each GOP candidate is viewed by Republican voters, see here.)

Among conservative Republicans, who make up a majority (63%) of all Republican and Republican-leaning voters, 66% say Cruz would make a good or great president, compared with just 8% who say he would be terrible or poor; 20% say he would be average. Among moderate and liberal voters, just 34% say Cruz would good or great in the White House.

A greater share of conservative Republicans (61%) than moderate and liberal Republicans (47%) say Trump would be a good or great president; conversely, more moderate and liberal Republicans (29%) than conservatives (17%) say Trump would be poor or terrible as president.

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The possibility of Carson or Rubio becoming president also is viewed positively by more conservative than moderate and liberal Republicans. Views of other GOP candidates as president are more similar among conservative Republicans and the party’s moderates and liberals.

The prospect of Donald Trump in the White House is viewed more positively by GOP voters who have not completed college than Republican college graduates – the only Republican candidate tested for whom this is the case.

About six-in-ten (59%) Republican voters without a college degree say Trump would be a good or great president, compared with 50% of Republican college graduates. Similarly, Republican college graduates take a more negative view of Trump becoming president (28% say he would be poor or terrible) than do those with less education (18%).

By contrast, a greater share of Republican college graduates (54%) than GOP non-college graduates (40%) react positively to Marco Rubio becoming president. This also is the case for Chris Christie (38% of GOP college grads vs. 28% of non-college grads) and John Kasich (23% vs. 14%).

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How Democratic voters see Clinton, Sanders as potential presidents

The prospect of Hillary Clinton becoming president is viewed positively by majorities of both liberal Democratic voters and conservative and moderate Democrats. About seven-in-ten liberal Democrats (72%) say that Clinton would make a great or good president, while 59% of conservative and moderate Democrats hold this view. (For detailed tables on how each Democratic candidate is viewed by Democratic voters, see here.)

Liberal Democrats are more likely than conservative and moderate Democrats (who make up 60% of all Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters) to express positive opinions about Bernie Sanders as president. While 70% of liberal Democrats say Sanders would make a good or great president, just 38% of conservative and moderate Democrats agree. Conservative and moderate Democrats are about twice as likely as liberals to see Sanders as an average possible president (33% vs. 16% of liberals), or a terrible or poor one (16% vs. 7%).

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White Democrats have similar opinions about Clinton and Sanders as potential presidents: 61% say Clinton would make a great or good president, while 56% say the same of Sanders. However, black Democrats are far more positive about the prospect of Clinton as president: 69% of black Democrats say Clinton would make a good or great president. By comparison, about half of black Democrats (48%) react positively to the idea of Sanders as president.

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How Democrats’ views of Clinton as a possible president have changed

1-20-2016_09Fewer Democratic voters have a positive reaction to Clinton possibly becoming president today than did so in December 2007, before the first caucuses and primaries of the 2008 campaign. Currently, 21% of Democrats say Clinton would make a great president; 34% expressed this view eight years ago. About the same share of Democrats see Clinton as a good potential president as did so then (43% now, 44% then), while somewhat more see her as average (23% now, 15% then).

Ahead of the first contests in 2008, far more Democrats saw Barack Obama as a good or great potential president (70%) than say that about Sanders today (51%).

Overlap among partisans in views of the candidates as possible presidents

As both the Republican and Democratic candidates vie for primary and caucus votes, many voters in each party say that more than one candidate would make a great or a good president.

1-20-2016_10Among Democratic voters overall, 64% say Clinton would make either a good or great president, while 51% say this of Sanders. There is substantial overlap between these two groups. On balance, however, Clinton performs better among those who view a Sanders presidency positively than Sanders does among those who say Clinton would be a good or great president.

Among those who view a potential Clinton presidency positively, 54% say Sanders would also make a good or great president; 26% say he would be an average president, while just 12% say he would either be a poor or terrible president.

Conversely, about two-thirds (68%) of those who say Sanders would be a good or great president also express a positive view of Clinton becoming president. Nearly a quarter (23%) say Clinton would be average, while 9% say she would be poor or terrible.

1-20-2016_11Among Republican voters who say Trump would be a great or good president, most (61%) say the same about Cruz. Roughly half say Rubio (48%) and Carson (51%) also would make good or great presidents. Those who react positively to a potential Trump presidency are less likely to say Christie (35%), Bush (25%) and Kasich (18%) would make good or great presidents.

Among those who say Cruz would make a good or great president, similar majorities (about six-in-ten) say Trump (64%), Rubio (62%) and Carson (57%) would make good or great presidents, with smaller shares saying the same about Christie, Bush and Kasich.  Among GOP voters who view a potential Rubio presidency positively, three-quarters (75%) say Cruz would make a good or great president, while fewer say the same about Trump (60%) and Carson (57%).

With primaries ahead, Republicans more engaged by 2016 campaign

1-20-2016_12As has been the case throughout the 2016 campaign, voters remain highly engaged by the presidential contest. A majority of registered voters (56%) say they have given “a lot” of thought to the candidates running for president.

At this point in the 2008 campaign, following the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, fewer voters (50%) said they had thought a lot about the presidential candidates.

Interest in the campaign is unchanged since December, but has increased steadily since last March, when just 26% said they were giving a lot of thought to the presidential candidates.

1-20-2016_13Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say they have given a lot of consideration to the candidates. Currently, 63% of Republican and Republican-leaning voters say they have thought a lot about the presidential candidates, compared with 51% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters.

In January 2008, nearly identical shares of Democratic (52%) and Republican voters (51%) said they were giving a lot of thought to the candidates.