Electorate Sour on Candidates, Primary Process

American voters are definitely interested in the 2016 presidential election, but many feel disaffected with the front-running candidates, the primary process and the electorate’s own “political wisdom.” 

American voters are definitely interested in the 2016 presidential election, but many feel disaffected with the front-running candidates, the primary process and the electorate’s own “political wisdom.” 

Voter turnout this year rivals the record-setting 2008 presidential election, but it has produced two candidates with historically high negative ratings and a sour taste about the primary process.

When Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders complain that the primary process is rigged, a majority of voters apparently agree with them. According to the Pew Research Center, only 35 percent of registered voters think the primary process produces the best qualified nominees. For Democrats, it’s a meager 30 percent.

Trump supporters are the most glowing in appreciation of the nominating process at 60 percent. Clinton’s backers have more positive views than Sanders’ supporters by a 37 percent to 25 percent margin.

But discontentment with the process and the front-running candidates hasn’t doused interest. Pew says 89 percent of Republicans and 82 percent of Democrats have given the 2016 election a “great deal of thought.” Those percentages exceed voter interest in the 2008 open presidential race.

Another interesting finding is that a majority of voters are frustrated, not angry, about government. Pew found 59 percent of voters express frustration, while only 22 percent admit to being angry. Seventeen percent claim to be basically content. 

Of those who are angry, 25 percent are fed up with politicians for failing to keep their promises or acting in a self-serving way, 18 percent are disgusted with political gridlock and 15 percent think politicians are out of touch and not working on their behalf. Four percent are angry because of President Obama, 3 percent because of Wall Street and big business influence and 3 percent because of taxes.

As might be expected, Republicans are more likely to be angry with a Democrat in the White House. Democrats were angrier during the George W. Bush White House years.

A discouraging perspective that emerges from the research is a pervasive view that life in America today is worse than it was 50 years ago and that it will be even worse for the net generation of Americans. Research indicates 46 percent of all voters – and 54 percent of white voters – think things in America are worse for “people like them.” That contrasts with only 17 percent of African-American and 37 percent of Hispanic voters who share the same view. There is more agreement across racial lines that things will be worse for the next generation.

It is reassuring that 68 percent of registered voters believe personal insults are “never fair game” in politics. Democrats hold that view more strongly than Republicans, but even Trump supporters agree by a 51 percent to 47 percent margin. Clinton and Sanders supporters are equal in their distaste for personal insults.

Voters by a 75 percent majority believe news outlets have given Trump too much coverage. That is less true, as you might imagine, with Trump supporters, who by a 55 percent majority think his coverage is “about right.” Supporters of Trump’s GOP rivals felt their candidates drew too little earned media coverage. Ohio Governor John Kasich’s backers were the most displeased, with 82 percent saying their candidate got less coverage than he deserved. Overall, 53 percent of GOP voters agreed. Even 42 percent of Trump supporters thought Kasich was shorted.

The study also shows Americans’ confidence in the “political wisdom” of the electorate sharply eroding through the 21st century. As recently as 1997, 69 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of Republicans expressed confidence in the political wisdom of the American public. Now only 35 percent of Republicans and 32 percent of Democrats have a great deal or good deal of confidence in the public’s political wisdom.