Voter Unhappiness Comes Through in New Law School Poll Results

“Here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.”

Maybe the famous line that the comedy team of Laurel & Hardy used in several movies in the 1920s and ‘30s will emerge as a key theme for voter opinion of the 2016 presidential election.

A new round of results from the Marquette Law School Poll, released on Wednesday, offers an eye-catching set of facts about voter unhappiness with both of the presumptive choices for major party nominations for president. In fact, the results suggested that slipping enthusiasm about voting, particularly among Republicans, may become a major factor in the outcome in November.

How unhappy are voters? Here are a few pieces of the bigger picture that emerged from interviews between June 9 and 12 with 800 registered voters across Wisconsin (666 who were labeled likely voters, based on saying they were certain to vote):

Negative views: Both Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton are viewed negatively by majorities of voters. Sixty-four percent of registered voters have negative views of Trump and 58% have negative views of Clinton. Professor Charles Franklin, director of the Law School Poll, said he found nothing comparable to such high negatives in presidential elections going back at least to the 1970s.

Even among Republicans, Trump is viewed unfavorably by 35%, with 52% having favorable opinions of him. Clinton does a bit better within her own party – 67% of Democrats have a favorable view of her and 27% an unfavorable view.

Reduced enthusiasm: In the new poll, 78 percent of Republicans say they are certain to vote in November. That is down a striking nine percentage points from the prior Marquette Law School Poll in March, when the Republican race remained contested and Wisconsin Republicans were on their way to giving Ted Cruz a primary victory.

Among Democrats, there was an increase in interest in voting in November, with 84 percent saying they were certain to vote, compared to 81 percent who said that in March.

By comparison, Franklin said, in the Law School Poll in June 2012, 90 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of Democrats said they were certain to vote that November.

Franklin said the shifting enthusiasm among Republicans explains why Clinton did better among likely voters than among all registered voters. To be specific, among registered voters, Clinton was supported by 42 percent and Trump by 35 percent.  But among likely voters, it was Clinton 46 percent and Trump 37 percent.

Low opinions of character: Less than a third of those polled rated Trump and Clinton as honest. For Clinton, only 28 percent said she was honest. For Trump, only 32 percent said that. Less than half said either candidate “cares about people like me” – for Trump, the figure was 27 percent, for Clinton it was 42 percent. More than half (56 percent) said Clinton has the qualifications to be president, but only 30 percent said that was true for Trump.

Substantial evidence of disunity within each party: Franklin said both Republicans and Democrats face unusual numbers of people identified with their parties who say they will not vote for either Trump or Clinton – 18 percent of Republicans and 13 percent of Democrats say that. Another five percent of Republicans and four percent of Democrats say they don’t know what they are going to do. For comparison, in June 2012, only three percent of Republicans and two percent of Democrats said they would not support either major party nominee.

Among Republicans, 12 percent said the party is currently united, 41 percent said it is divided now but will unite before the election, and 45 percent said the party will still be divided in November. Among Democrats, 18 percent say the party is united now, 53 percent say it is divided now but will unite by November, and 26 percent say the party will remain divided.

The popularity of Bernie Sanders: Sanders won the Wisconsin Democratic primary in April but fell short nationwide in amassing enough delegates to win the nomination. He remains the candidate who polls the best in Wisconsin. The new poll found that 53 percent of voters had a favorable opinion of him, with 36 percent unfavorable, much better than Trump or Clinton. Among Democrats, he had ratings of 81 percent favorable and 10 percent unfavorable. Furthermore, in a hypothetical match-up, Sanders led Trump by 56 percent to 31 percent among registered voters and 57 percent to 33 percent among likely voters, both much better than Clinton.

There is still a long distance to go until the November election. But what does it say when someone who isn’t going to get a major party nomination does far better in polling than either of the people who are? Or when each of the major candidates is well below water when it comes to favorable views in general? Or when enthusiasm among voters, particularly Republicans, appears to be tepid at best?

Well, as Laurel & Hardy said . . . .

To read the full poll results, click here. To view the one-hour “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” session in which Franklin described the poll results, click here.

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