Source: Pew Research Center
Major factor in candidate support: Disliking the opponent
Voters who support Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump offer a variety of reasons why they do so, ranging from the candidates’ issue positions to their personal backgrounds.
But a major factor for both groups, beyond their candidate’s attributes, is who they are not: Asked in an open-ended format, 33% of Trump supporters and about as many Clinton supporters (32%) frame their vote at least partially in opposition to the other candidate, often using harsh language.
Among Clinton supporters, only her experience, at 32%, is mentioned as frequently as opposition to Trump. For Trump supporters, opposition to Clinton is among the most frequently cited factors for supporting their candidate, with nearly as many citing his status as a political outsider (27%) or his policy stances (26%).
This “opposition as support” takes place in the context of an election campaign that is far more likely to be viewed in negative than positive terms: Majorities of Americans describe themselves as “frustrated” and “disgusted” with the campaign, while few declare themselves “interested”, “optimistic” or “excited.” And these negative takes have only become more widespread over the course of the summer.
The survey conducted August 16-September 12 online and by mail among 4,538 adults, including 3,941 registered voters, provides a unique perspective on voters’ feelings about the presidential candidates. Many voters have unqualified praise for their preferred candidate. A 78-year-old woman supporting Clinton describes her as “a seasoned veteran” who “can get things done,” and adds: “We need a woman!”
A 43-year-old man who backs Trump says the main reason is that “he’s not a career politician, and he doesn’t owe politicians anything. He’s got real-world experience that most career politicians lack.”
Yet sizable shares in both camps focus at least partly – or in many cases exclusively – on the flaws or shortcomings of the opposing candidate. Several voters, including a 41-year-old woman who is supporting Clinton, describe their choice as “the lesser of two evils.” A 49-year-old man who backs Trump says: “As bad as he is, I think Hillary is worse for our country.”