From the start, the Republican presidential field for 2016 has been much more crowded than the Democratic field. But voters in each party have similar views of the quality of their party’s candidates.
Nearly six-in-ten (57%) Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters say they have an excellent or good impression of their party’s presidential candidates. That compares with 54% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters who have positive impressions of the Democratic Party’s candidates.
Republicans are more positive about the GOP field than they were at nearly comparable points in the past two presidential campaigns. In May 2011, 44% of Republicans viewed the field of GOP candidates as excellent or good. In September 2007, 50% gave the presidential candidates positive marks.
Democrats are less positive about the current group of candidates than they were in September 2007, at a somewhat later point in the 2008 campaign. At that time, 64% said the Democratic candidates as a group were excellent or good. Throughout the fall of 2007 and early 2008, Democrats consistently expressed more positive views about their party’s candidates than Republicans did about theirs.
In September 2003, just 44% of Democrats and Democratic leaners gave positive ratings to their party’s field of candidates. At that time, the Democrats were challenging an incumbent president, as were the Republicans in 2011.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted May 12-18 among 2,002 adults (including 1,497 registered voters), finds increasing interest in the presidential campaign. The share of registered voters who say they are giving at least some thought to the presidential candidates has risen eight points since March, from 58% to 66%. However, just 29% of registered voters say they are giving “a lot” of thought to candidates who may be running for president in 2016.
Interest in the presidential candidates has increased among voters in both parties since March. Currently, 69% of Republican and Republican-leaning voters say they are giving at least some thought to the candidates, up from 61% in March. Among Democrats, 65% are giving a lot or some thought to the candidates, compared with 57% in March.
Voter interest is about the same as it was at a comparable point in the 2008 campaign. In June 2007, 68% of registered voters said they were giving a lot of thought (33%) or some thought (35%) to the presidential candidates in 2008.
The survey finds that Republicans have generally positive impressions of six GOP declared or likely candidates. Jeb Bush is the best known of those included in the survey, but he also has the highest unfavorable rating: 52% of Republicans and Republican leaners view Bush favorably, while 35% view him unfavorably.
About half of Republicans (51%) view Marco Rubio favorably, compared with 20% who have an unfavorable impression; 29% are unable to rate the Florida senator. Scott Walker is viewed favorably by 46%, while 17% rate him unfavorably (36% unable to rate). And 45% view Ted Cruz favorably, compared with 25% who view him unfavorably (30% can’t rate).
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton, the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination, is widely popular with Democrats; 77% of Democrats and Democratic leaners view her favorably.
However, Clinton’s favorable ratings have declined – among the public, as well as Democrats – since last summer. Currently, 49% of the public has a favorable opinion of Clinton, while 47% view her unfavorably. Clinton’s overall favorability rating has fallen nine points from 58% last August. This is Clinton’s lowest favorability mark since the spring of 2008, during her run for the Democratic nomination. (For more on Clinton’s favorable ratings since 1992, see this interactive).
The decline in Clinton’s favorability since August has come about equally among Democrats and Democratic leaners (from 86% then to 77% today) and Republicans and Republican leaners (from 27% to 17%).
Bill Clinton’s favorable rating has fallen 10 points since 2012. Currently, 58% of the public views Bill Clinton favorably, down from 68% in September of that year. Clinton’s ratings also are at their lowest point since 2008.
Clinton’s favorable ratings continue to be more positive than those of another former president, George W. Bush. Currently, 44% have a favorable opinion of Bush, down seven points from last August, but still higher than his 37% rating shortly before he left office.
Republicans’ Views of GOP Candidates
Conservative Republicans are more familiar with the set of six likely Republican candidates than are moderate or liberal Republicans. In addition to being more familiar with the candidates, conservative Republicans generally offer, on balance, more favorable ratings of the candidates than liberal and moderate Republicans, with the notable exception of ratings for Jeb Bush.
By a 51% to 34% margin, more moderate and liberal Republicans and Republican leaners say they have a favorable than unfavorable view of Jeb Bush, while 15% do not offer a rating. Among conservative Republicans, the balance of opinion is about the same: 54% view Bush favorably, while 37% view him unfavorable and 10% do not offer a rating.
For the five other declared or likely Republican candidates included in the survey, ratings are more positive among conservative than among moderate and liberal Republicans, and this is particularly pronounced in the ratings of Marco Rubio and Scott Walker. For example, by a 60% to 15% margin, more conservative Republicans hold a favorable than unfavorable view of Marco Rubio; 25% cannot offer a rating. Rubio’s ratings among moderate and liberal Republicans are much more mixed (34% favorable, 28% unfavorable), while as many as 38% cannot offer a rating.
Similarly, Scott Walker is viewed much more positively among conservative Republicans (54% favorable, 14% unfavorable, 32% can’t rate) than among moderate and liberal Republicans (32% favorable, 24% unfavorable, 44% can’t rate).
There also are demographic differences in Republicans’ views of these six GOP contenders. Older Republicans and Republican leaners – those 65 and older – give especially positive ratings to Marco Rubio and Scott Walker. By an overwhelming 64%-6% margin, older Republicans hold a favorable view of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker; 29% cannot offer a rating. And Florida Senator Marco Rubio is viewed positively by three-quarters of Republicans 65 and older (75%), while just 11% view him negatively (14% do not offer a rating). Older Republicans also express positive views of Mike Huckabee (52% favorable, 18% unfavorable) and Bush (60% vs. 27%). By contrast, Republicans age 65 and over hold more mixed views of Rand Paul (42% favorable, 35% unfavorable) and Ted Cruz (38% favorable, 25% unfavorable).
Younger Republicans, those under the age of 45, hold mixed views of Jeb Bush: about as many view him favorably (45%) as unfavorably (41%), while 15% cannot offer a rating. On balance, younger Republicans view the five other Republicans included in the survey more favorably than unfavorably.
Ratings of Jeb Bush also lag those of other GOP candidates among Republicans who say they have given a lot of thought to the 2016 election. By two-to-one or more, Republicans and Republican leaners who have thought a lot about 2016 hold more favorable than unfavorable views of Marco Rubio (71%-14%), Scott Walker (65%-15%), Ted Cruz (62%-21%), Rand Paul (63%-24%), and Mike Huckabee (65%-25%). By contrast, views of Jeb Bush are more narrowly positive: 54% view him favorably, while 41% view him unfavorably.
Democrats’ Views of Clinton
Hillary Clinton remains an overwhelmingly popular figure with Democrats. Currently, 77% of Democrats and Democratic leaners view her favorably; that is down slightly from August 2007 (81%), at a somewhat later point in her last presidential race.
Though wide majorities of Democrats across all demographic groups view Clinton positively, her favorability rating is lower among younger Millennials (ages 18-25), who were too young to vote in Clinton’s 2008 race. About two-thirds (65%) of younger Millennial Democrats view Clinton favorably. That compares with 79% of older Millennial Democrats (those ages 26-34). Among older Democratic age cohorts, 82% of Gen Xers, 76% of Boomers and 79% of Silents view Clinton favorably.
As was the case in August 2007, liberal Democrats view Clinton more favorably (81%) than do conservative and moderate Democrats (74%). Unlike eight years ago, there are virtually no gender differences in views of Clinton among Democrats: 78% of Democratic women and 75% of Democratic men view her favorably.
Joe Biden’s favorability ratings are now seven points lower than they were in October 2013, with more Americans now saying they have an unfavorable opinion of the vice president (48%) than saying they have a favorable opinion of him (39%); in October 2013, 46% viewed him positively, while 41% viewed him negatively.
While Biden remains considerably more popular among Democrats than Republicans, Republican views of Biden are relatively unchanged over the last few years, while Democratic opinions have become less positive.
Today, 58% of Democrats and Democratic leaners view Biden favorably, down 15 points from October 2013, when nearly three-quarters (73%) did so. Just 17% of Republicans and Republican leaners have a favorable opinion of Biden, a figure that is little changed over the last several years.
Opinion of Past Presidents: Bill Clinton and George W. Bush
Of the two most recent past presidents, Bill Clinton remains a more popular figure than George W. Bush. Today, 58% of Americans view Clinton favorably, while 38% have an unfavorable opinion. George W. Bush, by contrast, is viewed more negatively than positively (44% favorable, 52% unfavorable).
Though views of Bill Clinton remain in positive territory, they have declined 10 points since 2012. In particular, Clinton is now viewed far less favorably by Republicans and Republican leaners than he was in September 2012 (just 28% view him favorably today, down from 43%). And while about eight-in-ten (81%) Democrats and Democratic leaners view the former Democratic president favorably today, his ratings among Democrats were slightly better (88% favorable) in September 2012.
George W. Bush’s ratings have been relatively stable since early 2011. Currently, nearly three-quarters (73%) of Republicans and Republican leaners, along with just 23% of Democrats and Democratic leaners have positive opinions of the former GOP president.