Pew: A Mixed-Message Poll

By Jim Ellis

July 11, 2016 — The Pew Research Center for US Politics and Policy late last week released the results of their major benchmark presidential campaign survey, and found high levels of interest matched with a very low degree of candidate choice satisfaction.

The Abt SRBI data firm, the company that regularly conducts the ABC News/ Washington Post polls, administered the survey that sampled 2,245 adults, 1,655 of whom are registered voters, from all 50 states over the June 15-26 period.

Though the poll directors asked a ballot test query, the questionnaire’s main purpose was to determine issues and attitudes. The 51-42 percent Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump spread, and the 45-36-11 percent margin with Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson included, however, appears to lean a bit more to Clinton’s favor than the average aggregate responses among national polls.

One of the most interesting Pew responses involves paying attention to the race. The 80 percent of registered voters who say they have “thought a lot about this election” is the highest ever for the Pew presidential study, which has covered every campaign since 1992, inclusive. Just 15 percent of this sample says they have paid “only a little” attention to the campaign.

The 80:15 percent paying-attention ratio shatters the next strongest similar result, that from 2008 (72:23 percent). The lowest recorded attention score came in the 2000 contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore. In that poll, a ratio of only 46:43 percent (paying a lot of attention compared to only a little) was recorded.

The respondents also believe that it greatly matters who wins the election. By a 74:22 percent ratio, the participants believe the victorious candidate makes a difference toward making progress on issues, as opposed to things remaining about the same regardless of who triumphs in November. The 2016 response to this question – first asked in the 2000 election – is also the highest Pew has registered. The next strongest, 67:29 percent, came in the 2004 contest between then-President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry.

Though the respondents are highly attentive to the race, the registered voters are not happy with what they see. While attention is the highest number on record, satisfaction with the two candidates is the lowest the polling series has found. Here, 43 percent of Democrats and 40 percent of the Republican sample say they are very or fairly satisfied with both candidates. This finding is consistent for an electorate who views both major party candidates as highly unfavorable.

The only other time the Pew poll found numbers sinking to this realm occurred in 1992, when President George H.W. Bush was seeking re-election against then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.

But it is the issue arena and who would perform best in the various segments where things get interesting. When asked what are the most important issues facing the country, the respondents predictably pick the economy (84 percent) as number one. Terrorism is a close second (80 percent) followed by foreign policy (76 percent). Heath care (74 percent), gun policy (72 percent), and immigration (70 percent) are close behind.

Overall, the respondents believe Clinton is the superior candidate to deal with a dozen different issues but, on the most important, it is Trump who is seen as the better option.

As mentioned above, the economy is the single most important issue. But, here, the respondents, by a 48-43 percent margin, believe Trump would be better able to “improve economic conditions.” He also scores better than Clinton on the second most important issue, terrorism. By the same 48-43 percent spread, the respondents also identify Trump as the candidate best able to “defend against future terrorist attacks”. In the third top issue area, foreign policy, Clinton does best largely because of her experience in the area. Her foreign policy advantage is 54-36 percent.

The former Secretary of State tops Trump on race relations (66-26 percent), abortion (53-30 percent), health care (54-37 percent), selecting Supreme Court justices (52-40 percent), immigration (51-42 percent), and managing the federal government (49-42 percent). The candidates basically tie on trade and gun policies, while Trump performs better in “reducing special interest influence” (50-30 percent).

Pew’s in-depth poll again provides support for the premise that Clinton is currently ahead in her race against Trump. This data, like many other survey results, also identify windows of opportunity for the presumptive Republican nominee and gives credence to the premise that a Trump victory path still can be developed.

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