"Crazy" vs. "Dishonest"? Candidate images from both sides

March 05, 2016, 3:40 PM GMT+0

YouGov asked Republican and Democratic voters to describe the presidential candidates in one word

The images of several leading presidential candidates this year seem set in stone, at least among those in the other political party. Those negative assessments – held by voters in the other party – are clear and perhaps unalterable. In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll (conducted just before Super Tuesday), voters were asked to give a one-word assessment of the remaining candidates running for president.

The negatives are obvious – many voters don’t trust former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is seen as a socialist, and Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, praised by many for “telling it like it is,” is also rebuked by many for his behavior.

The vast majority of Republican primary voters see Clinton exactly the same way – calling her a “liar.”

As seen in the word cloud, if a Republican primary voters didn’t use the world “liar” to describe Clinton, nearly all used words that mean the same thing.

That reflects other findings in the poll and recent campaign discussion. Only 9% of Republican voters had a favorable opinion of Clinton, and only 5% said she was honest and trustworthy. Former GOP nominee Mitt Romney, in a speech denouncing Trump this week, said that “A person so untrustworthy and dishonest as Hillary Clinton must not become president.” In that same speech, Romney called Trump a “con man and a fake.”

Given that extreme dislike for Clinton as a person, it may not be a surprise that given the choice, three times as many Republican primary voters favored Sanders over Clinton for the nomination in that poll (though half didn’t favor either). But Sanders has the quality Republican voters think Clinton lacks: the perception of honesty. Nearly half of GOP voters regard Sanders as honest and trustworthy. And while 73% would be “upset” if Clinton won the nomination, less than half would be “upset” if Sanders did.

However, most Republican voters still don’t like Sanders. He has his own negative – and it is ideological. Just as nearly all the bad things Republican voters say about Clinton focus on honesty, the words that Republican primary voters use for Sanders are “socialist” and even “communist.” Even though he is the oldest candidate in the field (Sanders is 74 years old), just a small number say “old.”

Lindsay Graham, who left the GOP presidential race last year, said in a January radio interview that “dishonesty beats crazy,” and that may summarize how opponents view the two party’s frontrunners. Graham’s full quote is: “Dishonest — which is Hillary Clinton in the eyes of the American people — beats crazy,” he said. “I think Donald Trump’s domestic and foreign policy is gibberish.”

Democratic primary voters seem to agree with Graham’s characterization. They also have reacted to the variety of Trump statements attacking Mexicans, Muslims and the confusion over whether or not he would accept an endorsement from a leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

While a little of their opponents’ negative characterizations shows up in the words a candidate’s own partisans use to describe them, positive assessments dominate, as each of these three get highly favorable assessments from their own party’s voters. Clinton is seen as qualified and experienced, Sanders as honest, and Trump as strong and a winner.

The other GOP candidates’ word images share the same pattern: attacks on Texas Senator Ted Cruz honesty and campaign tactics are having an impact (but mostly on Democratic voters, as Republican voters are more likely to cite him as a conservative).

However, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Ohio Governor John Kasich get fairly similar reviews from both parties’ electorate.

Rubio is “young” and “inexperienced” to both groups, while many on both sides don’t know all that much about Ohio Governor John Kasich.

See the full Economist/YouGov results

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.