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Americans Positive About Presidential Candidates This Year, Enthusiastic About Voting

Americans Positive About Presidential Candidates This Year, Enthusiastic About Voting

Voters more interested in vision and leadership than in stance on issues

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans' overall satisfaction with the way things are going in the country today, and their overwhelming satisfaction with the state of the economy, is apparently spilling over into a state of contentment with the presidential election process. Voters are quite satisfied with the presidential candidates they have seen running for office so far this election cycle, and say that they are more enthusiastic about the election this year than they have been in previous years. This satisfaction may explain the fact that Americans -- particularly Republicans and independents -- say they are more interested this year in a presidential candidate's leadership and vision than in his stance on particular issues.

This Year, Most Americans Think at Least One Candidate Would Make Good President
Regardless of the particular candidate they are supporting, Americans -- at least as the year begins -- seem quite optimistic that they can find what they are looking for in a president among the candidates who are currently vying for the position. When asked in the most recent Gallup poll, conducted January 7-10, if "there is any candidate running this year that you think would make a good president," 75% of the population says yes. This sentiment holds true across the political spectrum.

These feelings of contentment with the presidential field this year stand in sharp contrast to January 1992, when, in response to the same question, only 40% of Americans said yes. Indeed, this general dissatisfaction with the candidates in 1992 opened the door to the third-party candidacy of Ross Perot, who went on to lead the polls at times during the spring, and eventually, despite dropping out of the race and then getting back in, garnered about 19% of the vote in November 1992.

This year, voters are not only happy with the presidential choices they see before them, they are also much more satisfied with the way things are going in the country, and much more satisfied with the U.S. economy than they have been in previous years, reinforcing the possibility that the opportunity for a third-party candidate to make significant headway with the electorate may be limited.

About half of likely voters also say they are more enthusiastic about voting this year than usually, while 31% say less enthusiastic. Additionally, two-thirds of likely voters say that if the election comes down to Al Gore and George W. Bush, they would be satisfied -- higher than the percentage of voters who answered a similar question in the affirmative when asked about front-runners Bill Clinton and Bob Dole in 1996.

Voters Seek Vision and Leadership More Than Particular Issue Stances
A good deal of the presidential campaigning last year and early this year has been given over to issues, with candidates issuing various tax cut and health care plans, and responding to specific and in-depth issue questions across the various debates being held in the early primary states.

Americans, however, seem more interested in the style and leadership capabilities of the candidates than their positions on the issues. Fifty-one percent of likely voters interviewed in the January 7-10 poll chose "leadership skills and vision" as being more important than "where the candidates stand on issues that matter to you" -- chosen by just 36%.

This tilt towards the broader presidential characteristics may in part be due to the fact that few burning issues are consuming the American electorate as this election year begins. As noted, about seven out of ten Americans are satisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time, a near-record figure for the last 20 years. Additionally, Americans are highly satisfied with the economy and think that it is going up rather than down.

Which candidate can best take advantage of the public's desire for a president with leadership and vision remains to be seen. The poll shows that Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats to feel that vision is important, while Democrats are more likely to say that the issues are important to their vote:

  Republicans Independents Democrats
Leadership and Vision 51% 54% 44%
Stance on Issues 33 33 42
Both Equally 13 12 11

Most Republicans end up voting for Republican candidates and most Democrats end up voting for Democratic candidates, meaning that the role of independents (about a third of the general population; somewhat less in the likely voter electorate) in today's presidential elections is very important. Because independents tilt significantly towards the "leadership and vision" perspective on candidates, it may be that savvy candidates in the general election next fall may tilt away from a focus on issues and more towards their overall vision for the future of the country.

Survey Methods
The results reported here are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,633 adults, 18 years and older, conducted January 7-10, 2000. For results based on the whole sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. 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.

Which of the following do you think will be most important to you when you decide who to vote for -- [ROTATE: Where the candidates stand on issues that matter to you (or) the leadership skills and vision you think the candidates would have as president]?

  Stance on the issues Leadership skills and vision Both equally (vol.) Neither (vol.) No opinion
Likely Voters
(LV) 2000 Jan 7-10 36% 51 12 1 *
National Adults
(NA) 2000 Jan 7-10 37 49 10 1 3

Next we have some questions about the 2000 presidential campaign. Please try to answer each question based on what you may have heard or read so far about the campaign and the candidates. First, … . Next, … . [Random order]

A.Does it make a real difference to you who is elected president, or not?
  Yes No No opinion
2000 Jan 7-10 80% 20 *
 
1992 Jan 6-9 82% 17 1
C. Is there any candidate running this year that you think would make a good president, or not?
  Yes No No opinion
2000 Jan 7-10 75% 16 9
 
1996 May 9-12 57% 39 4
1992 Oct 23-25 68% 26 6
1992 Sep 11-15 61% 32 7
1992 Apr 20-22 47% 44 9
1992 Jan 6-9 40% 41 19

If Al Gore and George W. Bush become the Democratic and Republican nominees for president this year, would you be satisfied with that choice, or not satisfied?

  Satisfied Not satisfied No opinion
Likely Voters
(LV) 2000 Jan 7-10 67% 31 2
 
National Adults
(NA) 2000 Jan 7-10 70% 28 2
(NA) 1996 Jan 12‡ 56% 40 3

‡ Question wording: "If Bob Dole and Bill Clinton become the Republican and Democratic nominees for president this year, would you be satisfied with that choice, or not satisfied?"

Compared to previous elections, are you more enthusiastic about voting than usual, or less enthusiastic?

  More enthusiastic Less enthusiastic SAME (vol.) No opinion
  % % % %
Likely Voters
(LV) 2000 Jan 7-10 49 31 19 1
 
National Adults
(NA) 2000 Jan 7-10 43 38 17 2
 
(NA) 1998 Oct 9-12 35 47 16 2
(NA) 1999 Aug 21-23 38 41 17 4
(NA) 1998 Apr 17-19 30 48 19 3
(NA) 1994 Nov 2-6 38 48 13 2
(NA) 1994 Oct 7-9 34 46 18 2

(LV) = Likely voters
(NA) = National adults
* = Less than 0.5%
(vol.) = Volunteered response

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