PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans are divided when asked if there is any candidate running who they think would make a good president, with 48% saying yes and 46% saying no. This is a slightly more positive outlook than that of 1992, when an incumbent president was also seeking re-election, but more pessimistic than in the election years of 2008 and 2000.
Gallup has asked this question in the presidential election years of 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2008, but at different points in the election cycle.
In 1992, the question was first asked in January, a few weeks further into the election cycle than is the case for the current poll. At that point, 40% of Americans said there was a candidate running who they thought would make a good president, slightly below the current 48%. The 1992 election is similar in broad respects to the current election, in that it also featured an incumbent president with relatively low approval ratings seeking re-election, with the opposition party having not yet coalesced around a strong front-running challenger.
One manifestation of this displeasure with the presidential field in 1992 was the emergence of third-party candidate Ross Perot, who, despite dropping out and then re-entering the race, ended up with 19% of the popular vote. No such prominent third-party candidate has yet announced his or her candidacy in the current election cycle, but on the basis of this question, it appears the public could be receptive to such an eventuality.
The 2000 and 2008 presidential elections both were open-seat elections, and in January of both years, the percentage of Americans who said there was a candidate running who would be a good president was substantially higher than it is today.
On the Issues: On Par With 1992 and 2000, Worse Than in 2008
Americans are more positive when asked whether the presidential candidates are talking about issues they really care about. Fifty-seven percent of Americans say "yes," very close to the responses in January 1992 and in January 2000, but well below January 2008.
Perhaps not surprisingly, there are big differences in responses to this question by party, no doubt reflecting the high-profile Republican campaign that has been conducted all year, while there has been no serious opposition to the re-nomination of President Obama. Seventy-five percent of Republicans say the candidates are talking about issues they really care about, compared with 55% of independents and 43% of Democrats.
On the Candidates' Ideas: Better Than in 1992, Worse Than in 2008
About 4 in 10 Americans say the presidential candidates have come up with good ideas for solving the country's problems. This is actually higher than the percentage who answered this question affirmatively in January 1992, but well below "yes" responses in January 2008.
On the Election Process: More Negative Than in 2000 and 2008
Thirty-nine percent of Americans now say the presidential campaign makes them feel as though the election process is working as it should, a question Gallup asked in two election cycles prior to this one. This year's result is well below the 57% and 67% who said this in January 2000 and January 2008, respectively. Both of those elections were open seat, with no incumbent running in either party.
Americans give mixed signals in response to these poll questions asking about the state of the presidential election this year. They are not strongly pleased with the choice of presidential candidates so far in this campaign, suggesting, as was the case in 1992, that a third-party challenger -- or a new candidate emerging to challenge for the GOP nomination -- could find some success.
Americans are also displeased with the way in which the campaign process is working, which could be part of the more general negative attitude Gallup is finding toward the way the nation's government is working.
On the other hand, Americans' views of the candidates' ideas for solving problems are actually more positive now than they were in 1992, although less positive than in January 2008.
All in all, Americans' views of the election process so far share some similarities to what they were in early 1992, when an incumbent president was also running for re-election in the context of a troubled economy. It is too early to tell how the 2012 election will play out over the next 11 months, but the 1992 election ended up with a relatively strong third-party challenger and, ultimately, the defeat of the incumbent president.
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Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Dec. 15-18, 2011, with a random sample of 1,019 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.