Just in time for Presidents’ Day, the Pew Research Center revealed the results of studies on what qualities today’s voters want their new president to have.
While many political pundits concentrate on a candidate’s electability in a general election, Pew found in a September survey that 65 percent of registered Democrats and 67 percent of registered Republicans said they were more concerned with candidates’ stances on issues than with a candidate having the best chance of defeating the other party’s nominee.
Fifty-five percent of registered voters overall valued a candidate who has “new ideas and a different approach,” while 37 percent said it was more important for a candidate to have “experience and a proven record.” These numbers reflect a massive shift from the figures taken six months prior. A survey from March 2015, conducted more than a year before the first 2016 primaries, found that 50 percent of voters wanted a candidate with “experience and a proven record.” At that time, only 43 percent prioritized “new ideas and a fresh approach.”
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This striking flip can be attributed to Republican and Republican-leaning voters. The share of Republicans valuing new ideas increased by almost 30 percentage points over the six-month period from 36 percent to 65 percent. The race for the GOP presidential nomination has been described by some as “the year of the outsider,” with primary voters largely rejecting candidates considered to be the political establishment. Newcomers to politics, Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina have all experienced surges at various points in the election cycle — reactions many have identified as a rebukes to congressional Republicans. Even sitting senators have tried to distance themselves from Congress, with Sen. Ted Cruz’s repeatedly dubbing his colleagues as being part of the “Washington Cartel.”
Experience as a Washington lawmaker is also seen more negatively by today’s voters. Research conducted in January found that 31 percent of the public — and 44 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters — said they would be less likely to cast a general election ballot for someone who had been an elected official in Washington for many years.
Although Democratic voters’ opinions have remained far more stable — 50 percent valued experience in September and 46 percent said the same in March — the year of the outsider philosophy has in some respects held true. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, once presumed to be the front-runner, just suffered a notable loss in the New Hampshire primary, earning 38 percent of the vote as compared to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 60 percent.
Another survey examined the role of faith in the 2016 race. The majority of U.S. adults said it would make no difference to them if a presidential candidate were Jewish or Catholic, 80 percent and 75 percent respectively. However, there is limited support for Muslim and atheist candidates. Forty-two percent said they would be less likely to vote for a Muslim, a sentiment echoed by Ben Carson, and 51 percent said they would be less likely to vote for an atheist.
Among traits seen as preferable by the public, military service ranks most positively. Fifty percent of Americans said they would be more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who has served in the armed forces. Four candidates in the 2016 cycle served in the military — former Gov. Jim Gilmore, Sen. Lindsey Graham, former Gov. Rick Perry and former Sen. Jim Webb — but all have since ended their presidential bids.