GW Battleground Poll: Americans Engaged but Tone Is Affecting Voters

Clinton, Cruz, Trump all have unfavorable rating above 50 percent.

April 25, 2016

Battleground Poll

Voters have negative views of three of the five remaining presidential candidates and report the tone of the race is wearing on them, according to the latest George Washington University Battleground Poll.

Likely voters were asked how closely they’ve followed the presidential campaign over the last year. Eighty-nine percent reported they’ve followed the race either “very” or “somewhat” closely. More than half (52 percent) of respondents reported receiving updates on the campaigns via social media.

The poll found that of the five candidates still in the race for president, only two—Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Ohio governor John Kasich—have an unfavorable rating below 50 percent, at 44 and 29, respectively. The other three—former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (56 percent), Sen. Ted Cruz (55 percent) and businessman Donald Trump (65 percent)—are all mostly disliked.

All the candidates with unfavorable ratings above 50 percent also have a majority of voters saying that they would not consider voting for them for president. When asked about increasingly visible former President Bill Clinton, respondents showed more positive views toward the non-candidate, with 54 percent favorable and 41 percent unfavorable toward him.

In a head-to-head matchup of each party’s frontrunner, Ms. Clinton leads Mr. Trump by only 3 percentage points nationally (46 to 43; 11 percent undecided). Comparatively, Mr. Sanders fares slightly better against Mr. Trump (51/40/10).

“The Republican Party has a strongly favorable political environment for winning the White House,” said pollster Ed Goeas, president and CEO of the Tarrance Group. “If a mainstream Republican candidate were the presumptive nominee, the GOP would likely be in a strong position for a lot of wins, top to bottom, in November.”

The bipartisan poll, conducted in partnership with the Tarrance Group and Lake Research Partners, surveyed 1,000 registered likely voters nationwide April 17-20 and included a protocol for reaching mobile phone users. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percent.

‘Repulsive’ language in the campaign

This election cycle introduced a new tone and tenor of rhetoric on the campaign trail. The coarseness of the language has started to have an impact on voter perceptions of the race. Half of the likely voters surveyed said that this language is “repulsive” and has no place in a presidential campaign. Just 18 percent found the caustic words “offensive but understandable” and only 6 percent thought it was “just the jolt our political system needs.” More than a third, 36 percent, say that this type of language has made them less likely to vote for a particular candidate.

This reaction to campaign rhetoric was common across parties. Thirty-seven ‎percent of Republicans, 40 percent of independents and 66 percent of Democrats said the language is “repulsive.” Another 22 percent of Republican, 23 percent of independents and 12 percent of Democrats said it's “offensive but understandable.”

“Already we have a unique election combining insecurity, frustration, engagement, desire for change and serious pushback on the tone of the campaigns,” said pollster Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners. “Hillary Clinton has the edge because voters know it takes experience and a calm head to get things done and protect the country.”

America Still Divided

The current president fared better than most of the candidates. President Barack Obama’s job approval rating has risen to 51 percent, with 46 percent of respondents disapproving. This is the first time since December 2012 the GW Battleground Poll found a higher approval than disapproval rating for Mr. Obama.

Despite the improving sentiment for the president, a majority of the likely voters surveyed, 66 percent, say that the country is on the wrong track, with 56 percent feeling strongly about that statement.

“There is bad news aplenty here for both parties. Voters are disheartened, discouraged about the future and disdainful of the leading candidates in both parties,” said Christopher Arterton, founding dean and professor of political management at the Graduate School of Political Management. “On many important issues, the public seems to lean toward the Republican Party, setting the stage for an election that could go their way. But since the two candidates with the best chance of receiving the Republican nomination are viewed even more unfavorably at this point than Secretary Clinton, there's a good chance we are headed into an election where voters will see their choice as between the lesser of two unhappy options.”

For complete data and results, including additional numbers on the 2016 elections and national security, visit the GW Battleground Poll homepage.