Attitudes Toward National Political Candidates Change Dramatically

Though we are approaching an important primary next Tuesday and charges and counter-charges from candidates and outside groups are penetrating the electronic airwaves across the country, we take a break from that action to review the new Pew Research Center for the People and Press survey. Their data shows an extraordinary change in public attitude toward national political candidates.

As late as 2007, a vast majority of the electorate believed that being a member of the Senate or House proved a better preparatory ground for the presidency than did serving as governor. Just seven years later, today’s respondents now look at Washington experience far more negatively.

According to the results of this late April survey of 1,501 adults that was released in mid-May, the respondents now rate being a governor equal to serving in Washington. Responding to the question, “which better prepares someone to be president, serving as a state’s governor or as a senator or member of Congress”, 44 percent responded governor, the same number who answered congressional service. In 2007, this question drew a 55-24 percent response in favor of Washington service.

More telling, a decided number of people would be less inclined to support a candidate “who has been an elected official in Washington for many years”. According to this question, only 19 percent would be more inclined to support such an individual, while a full 30 percent are less inclined to do so.

Not surprisingly, it is Republicans who now overwhelmingly believe the state experience is better for a future president, while Democrats favor federal service. By a margin of 51-40 percent, Republicans think being a governor is superior preparation. In contrast, Democrats see congressional service as the bigger positive, breaking down 55-35 percent. Self-identified Independents track more closely with Republicans in this matter. By a 45-42 percent margin, the non-affiliated respondents rated gubernatorial service more positively.

But, the most stunning number is the division within the electorate when comparing today’s answers about experience to those of a quarter-century ago. In Ronald Reagan’s second-to-last year as president, a whopping 66 percent of a similar surveyed sample believed that congressional experience was best in preparing to run for president. In 1987, just 22 percent believed being a governor provided superior preparation.

The current findings track with the electorate’s overall negative impression of national politics. Yet that attitude has not yet presented itself at the 2014 ballot box. So far, of the 53 federal incumbents challenged in 2014 party primaries, 52 have won renomination. Within the winning group of incumbents, 32 exceeded 70 percent in victory percentage, a very solid showing for the office holders.

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