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American Electorate Skeptical of Every 2016 Candidate, New GW Battleground Poll Shows

Economic Focus May Offer Advantage for Democrats Leading into Campaign Season

May 11, 2015
Jason Shevrin: [email protected], 202-994-5631
John Brandt: [email protected], 202-994-3199
WASHINGTON (May 11, 2015)—Americans’ pessimism about the current state of the country extends to the field of candidates for the 2016 presidential race, according to a new George Washington University Battleground Poll.
The poll, conducted in partnership with The Tarrance Group and Lake Research Partners, asked likely voters for their opinions on each of 11 announced or likely candidates, including whether the respondents’ impression of each is favorable and whether they would consider voting for each. Voters are evenly split on Hillary Clinton (47 percent favorable, 48 percent unfavorable; 47 percent would consider, 51 percent would not) and strongly negative on presumptive candidate Jeb Bush (35, 48; 36, 60).
Several Republican candidates have nearly evenly split favorability ratings but face large percentages of the electorate who have never heard of them, including Ted Cruz: 26 percent; Scott Walker: 47; Marco Rubio: 26; Rand Paul: 18; Mike Huckabee: 16; Carly Fiorina: 60. Including Bush, every Republican candidate faced more than half of respondents who would not consider voting for him or her. Of that group, only Rubio had more than 40 percent who would consider him. 
“These GW Battleground Poll results show that the American electorate's deep, broad and chronic pessimism about jobs and economic security translates into across-the-board hostility toward the 2016 presidential candidates,” said Michael Cornfield, research director of the GW Global Center for Political Engagement and associate professor of political management. “We asked registered voters whether they would consider voting for 11 different presidential candidates, declared and apparent, well-known and less well-known. In each and every case, more respondents said they would not consider voting for them than would. Campaigners face stiff suspicions and a preference for political effectiveness over ideological affinity.”
The opinions of the candidates mirrored the public’s impression of the country as a whole. Strong majorities say the country is on the wrong track and that “the next generation” will not be better off economically than the current one. Voters identified the economy (23 percent) and jobs (14) as the top two issues for the next president to focus on. Almost three-quarters are somewhat (41) or very (32) worried about another economic downturn. 
"As the 2016 presidential campaign gets underway, Americans are searching for a leader who understands the nation’s fundamental economic challenges as the threats to security—both personal financial security and shared, national security—that they are, and who will act with a sense of urgency to address those challenges," said pollster Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners. "These basic dynamics, and an increasingly favorable demographic climate, benefit the Democrats, but it would be a mistake to take the outcome of the elections for granted. To win, Democrats must still pair bold, distinct policy solutions to the fundamental values that animate their vision: economic security, equal opportunity and a fair shot at the American Dream." 
Voters’ pessimism translates into a desire for a more effective Washington apparatus. Roughly three in five poll respondents said they would vote for the candidate that they believe “will be the most effective at getting things done in Washington” as opposed to a candidate “whose views most closely match (their) own.” President Barack Obama’s current approval rating is 45 percent, according to the poll. 
“Like all presidential election years, the 2016 campaign will be driven by the voter attitudes about the candidates for president. While this matchup is not yet set, it is clear that the political environment in 2016 will present a significant headwind for the Democratic Party,” said pollster Ed Goeas, president and CEO of The Tarrance Group. “Voters in 2016 will overwhelmingly think the country is on the wrong track and a majority will disapprove of the job performance of President Obama. This will present a significant challenge to a Democratic presidential candidate who will be running with a third Obama term as a major theme.”
Looking at national security, 51 percent of likely voters approve of U.S. efforts against the Islamic State, while 41 percent disapprove (a jump of 10 percentage points from December 2014). The poll found 64 percent of respondents had heard about President Obama’s tentative nuclear agreement with Iran. They were evenly split on whether they approve of such a deal.
More Information
For complete data and results, including additional numbers on same-sex marriage and terrorism, and detailed analysis from each pollster, visit the GW Battleground Poll homepage.
About the George Washington University Battleground Poll
The George Washington University Battleground Poll is a nationally recognized series of surveys conducted by Republican pollster Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners. The George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) and the School of Media and Public Affairs (SMPA) serve as the university’s home for the partnership. GW’s Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library houses the data archive of the survey results dating back more than two decades.
The poll, which is distinguished from other surveys by its presentation of separate analyses from these top pollsters representing both sides of the aisle, surveyed 1,000 registered likely voters nationwide May 3-6 and included a protocol for reaching mobile phone users. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
Interview Opportunities
  • Michael Cornfield, research director of the GW Global Center for Political Engagement and associate professor of political management (contact Jason Shevrin at 202-994-5631)
  • Ed Goeas, president and CEO of The Tarrance Group (contact Brian Nienaber at 703-684-6688)
  • Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners (contact Anderson Gardner at 202-776-9066)