Exit pollsters today will ask thousands of Americans “Who did you vote for?” when they probably should be asking “Who did you vote against?”
A survey we just completed suggests that the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election may hinge on which candidate is disliked more intensely by the other side.
In fact, for many, a vote for either candidate may be primarily about preventing the other candidate from being elected.
More than Just the Lesser of Two Evils
They’re both unpopular. We knew that already.
A slew of polls going back to the start of the general election and most recently by Washington Post/ABC News have repeatedly indicated that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the two least popular candidates for U.S. president in the history of political polling.
But it appears this election will not just be a matter of just holding one’s nose and voting for the lesser of two evils.
Unaided responses to one open-ended question in respondents’ own words suggest that what may drive many voters to cast their ballots for either candidate today is an intense distaste for the alternative.
People’s distaste for each candidate is so intense that when asked to tell us what he or she stands for, respondents didn’t name a policy issue, they named a character flaw.
Top of Mind: The Crook and the Hatemonger
We took a general population sample* of 3000 Americans via Google surveys, split it in half randomly, and asked each half the same single question substituting only the candidate’s name:
“Without looking, off the top of your mind, what issues does [insert candidate name] stand for?”
The comments—presumably the issues that are truly top of mind for people in this election—were analyzed with OdinText and are captured in the chart below.
You’ll note that for each candidate, respectively, respondents frequently offered a negative character perception instead of naming a political issue or policy supported by the candidate.
Indeed, the most popular response for Hillary Clinton involved the perception of dishonesty/corruption and the third most popular response for Donald Trump was perceived racism/hatemongering.
In both cases, the data tell us that people are unusually fixated on perceived problems they have with the candidates personally.
Higher Level Emotions
Though the comments tend to be rather short and direct, it can still be interesting to look at the words used to describe the candidates on a higher ‘emotional’ level.
The OdinText visualization below shows the biggest emotional differences between Clinton and Trump are in the area of Joy and Anger. [See OdinText Emotions Plot Below, Trump Red, Clinton Blue]
While both candidates descriptions contain a lot of anger, the proportion of anger in comments for Clinton is significantly higher (16.4% VS 12.3% for Trump).
The higher emotion of ‘Joy’ is partly due to Trump’s positive campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” which has significantly higher recall than Clinton’s. Among the people surveyed 33 people in our sample referred to the Trump slogan, and only one single person referenced Clinton’s slogan “Stronger Together”. A noteable difference in percentage terms (2.2% vs 0.07%, respectively).
More Effective Messaging for Trump
In terms of actual issues identified by respondents, Clinton was most often associated with championing women and civil rights, while Trump was identified with immigration and a pro-America, protectionist platform.
Here one could argue that the Trump campaign has actually done a more effective job of establishing a signature issue for the candidate.
While neither campaign has done a significantly better job of educating voters on its candidate’s policies than the other, (8.2% vs 8.6% for Trump and Clinton, answering “I don’t know”). It may be that the simple message of “Make America Great Again” has been clearer than Clinton’s “Stronger Together.”
Indeed, the top issue identified for Trump was immigration (12.8% VS 2.3% for Clinton), while the number one issue for Clinton was the negative trait “corruption/lies” (12.5% VS. 1.4% for Trump).
This may prove problematic for the Clinton camp.
When voters don’t like their choices, they tend to stay home. If voter turnout is high today, it won’t be because people are unusually enthusiastic about the candidates; it will be because one of these candidates is so objectionable that people can’t in good conscience abstain from voting.
[*Note: N=3,000 responses were collected via Google Surveys 11/5-11/7 2016. Google Surveys allow researchers to reach a validated (U.S. General Population Representative) sample by intercepting people attempting to access high-quality online content—such as news, entertainment and reference sites—or who have downloaded the Google Opinion Rewards mobile app. These users answer up to 10 questions in exchange for access to the content or Google Play credit. Google provides additional respondent information across a variety of variables including source/publisher category, gender, age, geography, urban density, income, parental status, response time as well as google calculated weighting. All 3,000 comments where then analyzed using OdinText to understand frequency of topics, emotions and key topic differences. Out of 65 topics total topics identified using OdinText 19 topics were mentioned significantly more often for Clinton, and 21 topics were significantly more often mentioned for Trump. Results are +/- 2.51% accurate at the 95% confidence interval. ]