Presidential hopefuls struggle with 'negative favorability' in Iowa, nationwide
Clinton, Trump both historically unpopular as third-party hopefuls gain traction
Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau
DES MOINES — The major political parties have had their moments in the sun. The national conventions of the past two weeks broadcast to the nation the parties’ presidential candidates, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
But as the parties leave behind the speeches and balloon-drops of the conventions to focus on the three-month sprint to the November election, there remains a significant number of voters who are wholly unimpressed with those two candidates.
Voters view Trump and Clinton less favorably than any other major-party presidential candidates since pollsters first started asking the question in the late 1960s, and more voters are seeking other options than in any election in two decades.
“Just talking to friends and family and other folks, you know, I haven’t met very many people who are excited or positive about the election,” said Christopher Larimer, a political-science professor at the University of Northern Iowa. “The people who I know are regular voters are really struggling with (the question of), ‘Who am I going to vote for?’”
Among those disenfranchised voters is Aaron Rochester of Sioux City, a Republican conservative who said he will vote for neither Trump or Clinton.
“You want someone who can represent you and support your ideals,” Rochester said, saying neither candidate fits that bill for him.
Rochester, a former Sioux City Council member, said he will vote in November, but he has not decided on a replacement candidate.
Donald Trump, the New York businessman who in many ways has turned this election on its head, has the worst favorability ratings of any major party presidential candidate on record.
The second-worst: Hillary Clinton.
Voters’ viewpoints of the top two presidential candidates has never been worse than this year. The data is illuminating.
In national polls conducted during and after the recent national conventions, Clinton was viewed unfavorably by between 51 percent and 57 percent of voters surveyed. Trump was viewed unfavorably by almost two-thirds of voters in one recent poll.
According to an analysis of polling data by the political news website 538.com, the net strongly favorable ratings for Trump and Clinton shatter the previous low. When subtracting the candidates’ strongly unfavorable from their strongly favorable ratings, using averages over March and April, Clinton scores negative 20 and Trump negative 40.
The previous low for the same period was Mitt Romney at negative 8 in 2012.
Results from the Pew Research Center show voters are less satisfied with the top two presidential candidates than in any election since 1992, and two out of five voters say neither candidate would make a good president.
“We’ve never seen both candidates in negative favorability at the same time and over the course, so far, of the entire election campaign,” said Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll in Wisconsin.
The high unfavorable ratings can be attributed in part to political polarization, experts said. But Trump and Clinton have given voters other reasons to be turned off, according to polling data.
Clinton polls poorly on questions about honesty and trustworthiness, while Trump fares poorly on questions about having the proper qualifications or experience to be president.
Those low levels of approval have led, in part, to a rise in support for third-party candidates for this cycle. The biggest beneficiaries thus far have been Libertarian Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, and Green Party candidate Jill Stein, a physician and political activist from Massachusetts.
Johnson has polled in the high single digits in recent national polls.
Franklin said voters’ unfavorable views of Clinton and Trump have created an opening for third-party candidates such as Johnson and Stein.
“It certainly provides an opportunity because it provides a pool of voters who are dissatisfied with their major party choices,” Franklin said.
The experts interviewed for this story agreed, however, that it is unlikely any third-party candidate will shift the election results.
One reason is the defection of support does not to appear to be harming Clinton or Trump. Rather, it seems both candidates are losing voter support to third-party candidates equally.
Another reason is disenfranchised voters — particularly those with a strong ideological bend — eventually may decide to vote Democrat or Republican.
“As we get closer to the election, a lot of the people considering at the moment a third-party candidate as a protest vote may well come home and hold their nose for what they consider the least of two evils,” said Dennis Goldford, a political-science professor at Drake University.
STILL TIME TO DECIDE
What those disenfranchised voters ultimately will do on Election Day remains unknown, and what shows in polling now may be much different by November.
They may sit out the election and not vote. They may vote for other offices, but skip casting a vote for president. They may vote third-party.
Or they may yet be persuaded to vote for Clinton or Trump.
“That’s the essential question. We don’t know,” Goldford said. “Are people going to decide that they’re both bad and I’ll vote for the lesser of two evils? Are people going to decide they’re both awful, I’m simply not going to vote? We don’t know that yet. That’s the $64,000 question.”
For now, many voters remain uninspired by the major party candidates for president, and are wrestling with what to do with their vote.
Larimer said those voters are going through a personal and emotional struggle.
“They’re just really having a hard time with who they want to vote for president,” Larimer said. “They’re just having a really hard time getting over that hurdle, having to (vote) for someone they don’t like.”
Sioux City Journal reporter Bret Hayworth contributed to this story.