September 2, 2016

For many voters, it’s not which presidential candidate they’re for but which they’re against

American voters are generally skeptical that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump would make a “great” or “good” president. But another dynamic in the 2016 presidential election is the significant share of voters who say their vote is based more on which candidate they are against rather than which one they are for.

This stands in contrast to recent elections in years without an incumbent presidential candidate. In both 2008 and 2000, half or more of each candidate’s supporters said their vote was more a vote for their candidate than a vote against the opposing party’s candidate.

In a recent Pew Research Center survey, 53% of Clinton supporters say they consider their vote more in support of her, while 46% say their vote is more against Trump. Negative voting is somewhat more prevalent among Trump supporters: 53% say their vote is primarily against Clinton. Fewer (44%) say their vote is in support of Trump.

In both the 2008 election between Barack Obama and John McCain and the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, clear majorities of each candidate’s supporters said their vote was mainly for their candidates.

In July 2008, 68% of Obama supporters and 59% of McCain supporters said their vote was more in favor of their respective candidates. Smaller shares in both groups said they were voting more against the opposing party’s candidate (25% of Obama supporters and 35% of McCain supporters).

Similarly, in September 2000, 64% of Gore supporters said their vote was more for Gore than against Bush. A similar share of Bush supporters (60%) said their vote was for Bush, rather than against Gore.

Today, there are differences by age, gender, party identification and education among both Trump and Clinton backers when it comes to whether voters are motivated more by support of their own candidate or dislike of the opponent.

Among Trump supporters, men (48%) are more likely than women (39%) to say their vote is a vote for Trump. Men and women who support Clinton are about equally likely to say their vote is in support of her (56% vs. 51%).

But among Clinton supporters, younger voters are much less likely than older ones to say their vote is in favor of Clinton. Just 29% of Clinton supporters ages 18-29 say their vote is more a vote for Clinton (71% view theirs more as against Trump). By comparison, majorities of Clinton backers in older age groups view their vote primarily as a vote for Clinton.

Among Trump supporters with college degrees, more say their vote is against Clinton than say it is for Trump (59% vs. 40%). But those with less education are more divided: 50% say it is a vote against Clinton, while 46% say it is for Trump.

Among Clinton supporters, the pattern is reversed: 60% of those with college degrees view their vote as for Clinton rather than against Trump. A smaller share (49%) of those with less education say this.

Topics: U.S. Political Parties, Voting Issues, Political Attitudes and Values, Political Party Affiliation, Elections and Campaigns, Political Polarization, 2016 Election

  1. Photo of Abigail Geiger

    is an associate digital producer and writer for Pew Research Center.