Are voters looking for honest and trustworthy candidates, those who stand on principles, or is having the right experience the ticket to success in 2016? The answer largely depends upon the partisanship of voters, but there are important differences in the Republican and Democratic presidential races.
The qualities voters are looking for in a candidate provide insights into the 2016 electorate and how it differs from past electorates. Data from the latest NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Election Tracking Poll for the week of December 28, 2015, through January 3, 2016, can provide important insights into this question. Respondents were asked which of nine traits or qualities mattered most in deciding whom to support for president. These options include: a candidate’s experience; whether he or she shares the respondent’s values; if the respondent thinks the candidate cares about people like him or her; whether or not the respondent sees the candidate as an atypical politician; the candidate’s temperament; the candidate’s leadership abilities; the candidate’s honesty and trustworthiness; and the candidate’s willingness to stand up for his or her principles, no matter what.
About 19% of respondents want a candidate who is willing to stand up for his or her principles, and another 19% would like a candidate who is a strong leader. These are followed by preferences for a candidate who is seen as honest and trustworthy (16%), and a candidate who shares the respondent’s values (15%).
Interestingly, there are important differences in why Democrats and Republicans indicate they support a candidate. These differences are reflected in the blue and red bars. Roughly equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans support a candidate because he or she shares the respondent’s values, or is seen as honesty and trustworthy, but sharper dissimilarities are also present. More than 23% of Republicans want a candidate who is a strong leader, but only 16% of Democrats want the same. Democrats, on the other hand, want a candidate who cares about people like them (15%) or has the right experience (15%) – qualities that only around 4% of Republicans suggest are important.
Similar differences also emerge when looking at the top two qualities desired by the supporters of different primary candidates. Among Donald Trump supporters, for example, 29% like someone who is not a typical politician, and 25% want someone who will stand up for his principles. Ted Cruz’s backers similarly desire someone who stands up for his principles (30%), but they also want someone who shares their values (20%). And Marco Rubio’s followers look for a strong leader (32%) and someone who is honest and trustworthy (20%).
Democrats are similarly split on the candidate characteristics that they value. Hillary Clinton’s backers want someone with the right experience (22%), and who is a strong leader (22%). Bernie Sanders’ supporters want someone who shares their values (24%) and will stand up for his principles (22%).
Graphic by Sam Petulla.