Continued Democratic campaign takes toll on Clinton

May 12, 2016, 2:17 PM GMT+0

As the Democratic primary race drags on negative opinions of Hillary Clinton are growing among Democrats

The campaign for the Democratic nomination moves inexorably, but slowly, on. And there is price being paid by the Democratic frontrunner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders wins states – but not by enough to put him on target to reach a majority of pledged delegates at the end of the process – opinions about Hillary Clinton among Democratic primary voters are becoming more negative.

In this week’s Economist/YouGov Poll, one in three Democratic primary voters have an unfavorable opinion of Clinton, and that figure has been rising all year. But it only jumped above 30% a few weeks ago. As Clinton pivots to a general election campaign, and frequently ignores Sanders, he continues to win primaries – with his political television advertising unanswered by Clinton ads in some states.

The growth in negative views about Clinton comes from Sanders supporters. In this week’s poll, 61% of Democratic primary voters who support Sanders have an unfavorable view of Clinton. Clinton’s voters are more positive about the Vermont Senator: 58% of them have a favorable view of Sanders, and just 39% are unfavorable. But that lower negative assessment of Sanders by Clinton supporters has also grown. It has jumped 20 points since early March, and 12 points since early April.

When it comes to preference for the Democratic nomination, Sanders has been closing the gap with Democratic primary voters nationwide. Clinton’s 17-point lead over Sanders in January is now down to six points in the latest poll.

What has also slipped is the perception by Democrats that Clintons is honest and trustworthy. In this week’s poll fewer than half think that. And nearly as many say she is not. Back in January, most Democratic voters said Clinton was honest and trustworthy.

Sanders supporters overwhelmingly think Clinton is not honest and trustworthy.

Clinton may have changed her campaign to focus more on attacking the presumptive GOP nominee, Donald Trump, rather than confront Sanders, but Trump is firing back, too. Among all adults, both Trump and Clinton are viewed unfavorably by majorities of voters. Clinton’s 56% negative rating is only beaten by Trump’s 61% unfavorable rating. Only Sanders, who has been only lightly criticized in recent months by either Clinton or Trump, remains unscathed by the continuing campaign: just about half of all adults view him favorably.

Two in three Democratic primary voters who favor each of the remaining candidates claim they are strongly for their choice. Only 6% of Clinton supporters and 11% of Sanders supporters view their choices as the least bad of the options. And Clinton and Sanders voters are equally likely to say they would be enthusiastic if their choice won the Democratic nomination.

And Sanders supporters may be starting to read the writing on the delegate wall. Twice as many of them think Clinton will be the Democratic nominee as believe Sanders will. Nearly three in four say Clinton can defeat Donald Trump.

But the Clinton supporters are beginning to worry. And they would certainly like it to be over. A plurality of Clinton supporters think the fact that the contest is still going on is good for the Democratic Party, but that percentage is down significantly from a month ago, when most did. And this week only a quarter of them said Sanders should stay in the race until the Democratic convention, just about the same percentage who want him to suspend his campaign immediately.

What does this mean for the general election? One in four Sanders supporters believe their candidate should not help Clinton win, no matter what. And they are not sure most Sanders supporters would vote for her. That doesn’t mean they would vote for Trump. Although at this point, only just over half of Sanders supporters say they will vote for Clinton against Trump, just 15% say they will vote for Trump. The rest claim that they would vote third party or not vote at all.

If Sanders were to run against Trump, three in four Clinton supporters are prepared to vote for him today. Independents would vote for both Democrats, though Sanders runs better than Clinton with them. But it is months away from the general election, and much can change between now and then.

What Clinton does have – for both Democratic voters and the public overall – is the belief that she is qualified for the Presidency. And she is the only one of the three remaining candidates who is seen that way by most adults. As for Donald Trump, six in ten think he is not qualified.

See the Economist/YouGov results

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.

Explore more data & articles