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.


  1. cato11 months ago

    We have been given a choice of horrible and worse than horrible. I am offended by these candidates. I know we deserve better, or maybe we don’t. Is this election is a reflection of our stupidity? Have Americans just completely given up?

  2. Anonymous12 months ago

    When it comes down to which candidate is best fit for our country, it’s my opinion based on their history and track record is simply this. Both candidates have not been truthful and both have lied and made mistakes over the years. All this rhetoric about emails is a waste of time and tax payers dollars looking into something and trying to make more of a huge deal out of it than what it actually is. Bottom line-Hillary was doing her job as Secretary of State. Her job is not to manage policies within the United States, but to act as a the Chief Advisor to the President on foreign matters and policies! When people who understand that realize what that actually means, maybe they’ll rightfully have a different view when accusing her of all the “Democratic failures” over the last 8-12 years! Most of which she had nothing to do with! Now what American has been successful and risen to their successful achievements without failure, bad decisions, and/or flaws? My point exactly-most, if not all, have! In the case of Trump, he doesn’t exactly have a stellar history either. He’s made many bad decisions that have impacted and affected thousands of people and businesses and business owners! He’s filed bankruptcy on more than three occasions; none of which Clinton has ever experienced! So in your opinion, which one makes better since economically? Would you go with someone who’s filed bankruptcy over 3 or more times or someone who hasn’t? I could go on, but I think you get my point!

    1. Anonymous11 months ago

      you make a good argument for not voting for either of them. Every candidate who had the most FOR support rather than AGAINST support has won the popular vote since 2000. What happens when they both have more AGAINST support than anything else?