High interest, low satisfaction in the 2016 campaign

Posted at 2:18 PM, Jul 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-07 14:23:22-04

WASHINGTON — Voters are more tuned into the race for president than usual, but this year’s increased interest may stem more from frustration than hope.

A new survey from the Pew Research Center finds American voters rate their choice of candidates as the least satisfying since 1992. At the same time, almost three-quarters say the outcome of the election matters to the nation’s ability to make progress on important issues, and 8 in 10 say they’ve given quite a lot of thought to the election.

Only about 4 in 10 Democrats and Republicans alike said they were satisfied with this year’s presidential candidates. That marks the first time Democratic satisfaction has dipped below 50% since Bill Clinton’s first run for the White House in 1992, and 4 points below the previous GOP low reached in 1996 when Bob Dole challenged Clinton.

And more so than in any election year back to 2000, Americans say it’s difficult to choose between the two major party candidates because neither one would make a good president. Overall, 41% said they agreed with that statement, up from the previous high of 36% in 2000. Republicans (46% agree), were more apt to say so than Democrats (33% agree).

But Americans’ interest in the 2016 campaign is reaching new highs.

A stunning 85% say they’ve been following news about presidential candidates very or fairly closely, above the levels saying the same at this point in previous election years. And the 80% who say they’ve given “quite a lot” of thought to the election stands well above the 67% who said so at this stage in 2012, the 72% who had paid that much attention as of June 2008, 58% in June 2004, 46% in June 2000, 50% in 1996 or 63% in 1992.

Both Democrats and Republicans report giving a lot of thought to the election at higher rates than in previous years, but Democrats’ attentiveness to news about the campaign is about on par with 2008.

The poll, conducted from June 15 to 26, found Hillary Clinton holding a 9-point edge over Donald Trump, whether Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson was included in the question or not. In a two-candidate race, Clinton tops Trump 51% to 42%. In the three-way matchup, Clinton and Trump drop 6 points each, while Johnson lands at 11% support, his highest standing since a Fox News poll in early June found 12% backing the Libertarian candidate. Johnson’s backing spikes among younger voters; 22% of registered voters under age 30 say they would back him.

Factoring the Pew results into CNN’s Poll of Polls, Clinton averages 47% support over the five most recent publicly released nationwide telephone polls, while Trump stands at 40%.

Rating the two candidates across a wide range of issues, the Pew survey finds Clinton holding an edge on handling race relations, abortion, foreign policy, health care, selecting Supreme Court justices and dealing with immigration. Majorities say they trust Clinton on each of those issues. Clinton has a narrower edge on managing the federal government.

Clinton and Trump run more closely on handling trade or gun policy, while Trump holds a narrow advantage on improving economic conditions and defending future terrorist attacks. He tops Clinton by 20 points on reducing the influence of special interests.

Beyond the candidates themselves, voters rate the campaign so far as broadly too negative: 68% say so, compared with 53% in 2012 and roughly half in 2008 or 2004. Further, almost two-thirds say the campaign isn’t focused on important policy debates.

They are also more apt than in previous years to call it interesting; 77% say so now, up from a previous high of 62% in 2008. Only 2016 and 2008 were rated more interesting than dull in Pew polls dating back to 1996.

The Pew Research Center survey was conducted by telephone June 15 through 26 among a random national sample of 2,245 adults, including 1,655 registered voters. Results for the sample of registered voters have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.