The Branding of Presidential Candidates – how are they performing?

Experience, guts and honesty are what count for presidential candidate ‘brands’

Regardless of a voter’s political leanings, perceptions about the candidates are remarkably similar.  It’s clear that the candidates’ brands and distinguishing traits, both good and bad, are well established. A recent survey by AYTM and IPSOS asked 1000 nationally representative respondents to rate the eight leading candidates across nine factors: experience, honesty, guts, leadership, personal likability, handling domestic policy, handling foreign policy, working with Congress, and concern for regular people. Out of these nine, the three factors which most distinguish the candidates are experience, guts, and honesty.

According to AYTM COO JD Deitch, “elections are as much about how potential Presidents make us feel as they are about policy.  The purpose of our research was to look at the ‘soft side’ of politics to get a better understanding of how Americans perceive the 2016 Presidential candidates’ defining personality traits, or what we might call their ‘brands.’ We wanted to know how the candidates compare on honesty – and is this a significant differentiator?”

The survey reflects the deeply polarizing nature of each party’s frontrunner. Democrats rank Donald Trump dead last, while Republicans would prefer anyone to Hillary Clinton. The most “ordinary” candidate is Marco Rubio, who is neither exceptionally strong nor weak on any of the key traits.

Figure 4 - Head to Head among likely Republican voters suggests the leading candidates are effectively interchangeable.

 Figure 1 – Head to Head among likely Republican voters suggests the leading candidates are effectively interchangeable.

  Figure 2 - Likely voters identifying as Democrats indicate find concern for regular people to be more distinguishing than honesty.

 

Figure 2 – Likely voters identifying as Democrats indicate find concern for regular people to be more distinguishing than honesty.

 

Is honesty the best policy?

The study not only evaluated the potential voter’s views on each candidate but it also looked at whether the respondent was a likely Democrat or Republican, and if this corresponded with their perception of a candidate’s honesty.  People intending to vote Democratic find ‘concern for regular people’ to be more distinguishing than honesty. It appears that Democrats see greater differences between candidates on this criterion. Respondents associate the Democrat Bernie Sanders with honesty far more than Hillary Clinton. The Republican Marco Rubio eclipses Clinton on this dimension as well.

Or, are guts what really matter?

Among likely Republican voters, ‘personal likability’ replaces ‘guts to make tough decisions’ as a key personality trait separating the candidates. And everyone is more likeable than Trump.  Ben Carson and Marco Rubio distinguish themselves, and even Bernie Sanders fares better than Trump with Republicans on this dimension.

Figure 1 – Regardless of their party identification, likely voters see experience, honesty, and guts as the key traits which separate the candidates.

 

  Figure 3– Regardless of their party identification, likely voters see experience, honesty, and guts as the key traits which separate the candidates.

 

Trade off exercise

AYTM conducted a head-to-head experiment showing pictures of two randomly selected candidates and asking respondents to choose their preferred candidate until a clear ranking emerged. The results were most interesting for the Republicans as they show Trump, Carson, Cruz, and Rubio virtually neck and neck. This suggests to that if one were to drop out, likely voters would have no trouble shifting their allegiance to another Republican candidate.  On the other hand, half of the Democrats say that they would vote for Clinton as their first choice and only one-third for Sanders.

Using AYTM’s profiling software, the study also confirms who are the most likely to not vote.  These are people who are single, aged 23 – 34, who say that they are less likely to watch TV news or read about politics and who also attend religious services less frequently.

Deitch adds “as the campaign unfolds through the primary season, we believe these personality factors will have a huge impact on the choices people make. What’s left to see is how voters evaluate the tradeoffs. There is no perfect candidate that stands head and shoulders above the rest on all attributes. Each has a flaw. Voters will have to weigh these and make tough choices when they head to the polls”.

 

RAW data can be downloaded from the AYTM Full Stats Report
Pictures of the candidates are from the New York Times interactive website.

Featured image of Hillary Clinton courtesy of Marc Nozell (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic) and Donald Trump courtesy of Gage Skidmore (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic)