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Why Capability Trumps Character for Supporters of the US President

Tim Bock of Displayr shares findings from a recent study on what characteristics are valued for a president.

American supporters of Donald Trump believe that financial skills are more important in a president than decency and ethics, a new survey shows.

Data science app Displayr and survey company Research Now questioned 1,015 adult Americans in July 2017 on their preferences among 16 different characteristics and capabilities relevant to judging the performance of a president. Supporters of Mr. Trump consider an understanding of economics, success in business, and Christianity to be important. People not approving of Mr. Trump place a much greater store in decency, ethics, and concern for the poor and global warning.


What type of President do most American’s want?

For most people, the most important characteristic in a president is being decent and ethical. This is closely followed by crisis management. An understanding of economics comes in at a distant third place, only half as important as decency and ethics. These three characteristics are collectively as important as the other 13 included in the study (shown in the visualization below).

Capabilities Trump Character

The survey found that people who approve of Trump as president place greater value on different traits to most people. This is illustrated on the visualization below, which compares the preferences of people broken down by whether they Approve, have No Opinion, or Disapprove of President Trump’s performance as President.

While most people regard decency and ethics as the most important trait in a president, this characteristic falls into third place for Trump approvers, who instead regard having an understanding of economics and crisis management as more important. For supporters, capabilities trump character.

The largest difference relates to being successful in business. This is the 4th most important characteristic among the people that approve of President Trump. However, it is the 11th most important among the disapprovers. In terms of an actual absolute importance, success in business is 11 times more important to Trump approvers than disapprovers.

The data shows the reverse patterns for experience in government, concern with poverty, concern for minorities, and global warming. All are characteristics that are moderately important to most people but unimportant to those that approve of President Trump.

Finally, there is evidence for the views that those who support President Trump prefer a Traditional American (which was a dog whistle for white), male, Christian, and entertaining president. However, these differences are all at the margin relative to the other differences.


Explore the data

The findings from this study can be explored in this Displayr Document.



Displayr, the data science app, conducted this study. Data collection took place from 30 June to 5 July 2017 among a cross-section of 1,015 adult Americans. Research Now conducted the data collection.

The state-of-the-art max-diff technique was used to measure preferences. This technique asks people to choose the best and worst of five of the characteristics, as shown below. Each person completed 10 such questions. Each of the questions used a different subset of the 16 characteristics. The data was analyzed using a mixed rank-orderd logit model with ties.



The percentages shown in the the visualizations are importance scores. They add to 100%. Higher values indicate characteristics are more important.

All the differences between the approvers and the rest of the sample are statistically significant, other than for “Good in a Crisis” and “Multilingual”.

The table below shows the wordings of the characteristics used in the questionnaire. The visualizations use abbreviations.

Decent/ethical Good in a crisis Concerned about global warming Entertaining
Plain-speaking Experienced in government Concerned about poverty Male
Healthy Focuses on minorities Has served in the military From a traditional American background
Successful in business Understands economics Multilingual Christian


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