For most voters, the 2016 presidential campaign was one to forget. Post-election evaluations of the way that the winning candidate, the parties, the press and the pollsters conducted themselves during the campaign are all far more negative than after any election dating back to 1988.
The quadrennial post-election survey by Pew Research Center, conducted November 10-14 among 1,254 voters who were originally interviewed before the election, finds that half are happy that Trump won the election, while nearly as many (48%) are unhappy. That is little different from initial reactions to the election result four years ago, when 52% were happy that Barack Obama won.
But voters’ “grades” for the way Trump conducted himself during the campaign are the lowest for any victorious candidate in 28 years. Just 30% of voters give Trump an A or B, 19% grade him at C, 15% D, while about a third (35%) give Trump a failing grade. Four years ago, most voters (57%) gave Obama an A or B, and after his 2008 election, 75% gave him an A or B.
For the first time in Pew Research Center post-election surveys, voters give the losing candidate higher grades than the winner. About four-in-ten (43%) give Clinton an A or B, which is comparable to the share giving Mitt Romney top letter grades in 2012 (44%) and 13 percentage points higher than Trump’s (30%).
After a bitter and contentious campaign, voters are deeply polarized in their reactions to Trump’s victory and expectations for his presidency. Among all voters, 56% expect Trump to have a successful first term, which is lower than the share saying that about Obama’s first term eight years ago (67%), but on par with expectations for Obama’s second term in November 2012 (also 56%).
Virtually all of Trump’s supporters (97%) say they expect Trump’s first term to be successful; a smaller, but still overwhelming majority of Clinton supporters (76%) say Trump will be unsuccessful.
Trump voters have a high degree of confidence in – and high expectations for – the president-elect. Fully 88% say they are confident in the kind of president Trump will be, while 90% or more express at least a fair amount of confidence in his ability to deal with key issues such as the economy, illegal immigration and health care.
By contrast, Clinton voters express little or no confidence in Trump to deal with major issues. And while a majority of Clinton voters (58%) say they are “willing to give Trump a chance and see how he governs as president,” nearly four-in-ten (39%) say they can’t see themselves giving Trump a chance “because of the kind of person he has shown himself to be.”
Equally important, most Democrats would like to see their party’s leaders stand up to Trump rather than work with him. In fact, Democratic support for cooperation with the president-elect today is substantially less than GOP support for working with Obama eight years ago.
Nearly two-thirds of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters (65%) say “Democratic leaders should stand up to Donald Trump on issues that are important to Democratic supporters, even if means less gets done in Washington.” Just 32% want the party’s leaders to work with Trump if it means disappointing Democrats.
In November 2008 – a time when voters generally felt much better about the election and its outcome – Republicans and Republican leaners were more favorably disposed to their party’s leaders working with Obama. Nearly six-in-ten (59%) said GOP leaders should work with Obama, while 36% wanted them to “stand up” to the new president.
And Democratic voters are now far more supportive of the party moving in a more liberal direction than they were after either the 2012 or 2008 elections. About half of all Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters (49%) say Democratic leaders in Washington should move in a more liberal direction, while nearly as many (47%) favor a more moderate approach. Following Obama’s victories, majorities favored the party’s leaders moving in a more moderate direction (57% in both 2012 and 2008).
For their part, more than half of Republican and Republican-leaning voters (53%) say Trump should work with Democratic leaders in Congress, who are in the minority in both the House and Senate, while 39% say he should stand up to Democratic leaders.
However, few Trump voters have a positive view of Trump reaching across partisan lines for appointments to his administration.
Only about a quarter (26%) of Trump voters say the president-elect should appoint Democrats to serve in his administration. Twice as many (52%) say it does not matter, while 21% say Trump should not name Democrats to his cabinet.
In 2008, after Obama’s first victory, 52% of voters who supported him said he should appoint Republicans to his cabinet, double the share of Trump backers who favor Democrats in his cabinet today.
Grading the 2016 election
Donald Trump receives low grades for how he conducted himself over the course of the campaign, but voters grade other campaign actors just as harshly and in some cases even more harshly. Only about a quarter give an A or B to the Republican Party (22%) and the Democratic Party (26%). About three-in-ten give the parties an F (30% for Republican Party, 28% Democratic Party), by far the highest share giving the parties failing grades since this series of surveys began in 1988.
Voters also give abysmal grades to the press and pollsters, whose pre-election surveys were widely criticized. Just 22% give the press a grade of an A or B, while 38% give it a failing grade. Similarly, fewer voters award pollsters grades of A or B (21%) than a grade of F (30%).
And voters do not spare themselves from criticism. Just 40% give “the voters” a grade of A or B – the lowest percentage after any election since 1996.
As our surveys found throughout the campaign, voters view the 2016 contest as extraordinarily negative. Fully 92% say there was more “mudslinging” or negative campaigning than in past elections – which is 20 percentage points higher than the previous high (72% after the 2004 election).
And while a large majority of voters (81%) feel they learned enough about the candidates to make an informed choice, a record 73% say that there was less discussion of issues compared with past presidential campaigns.
Election reactions: Nearly all Trump supporters feel ‘hopeful’
Trump’s upset victory came as a surprise to most voters. Nearly three-quarters (73%) 0f all voters – including 87% of Clinton supporters and 60% of Trump backers – say they were surprised by Trump’s victory.
About half of voters (53%) say his election makes them feel “uneasy,” while nearly as many (51%) say it makes them feel “hopeful.” Smaller shares say his election triumph makes them feel “scared”, “sad” (41% each), “proud” (36%) or “angry” (31%).
Among Trump voters, 96% say his election made them feel hopeful, while 74% said they feel proud. Substantial majorities of Clinton voters say they feel uneasy (90%), sad (77%) and scared (76%) about Trump’s victory. Very few Clinton voters say they feel hopeful (7%) or proud (only 1%).
When voters are asked to summarize their feelings about Trump’s victory in a word, the unexpected nature of the result is reflected. Among Trump supporters, “happy” is mentioned most often, while many point to their surprise or shock at the election.
For Clinton voters, “shocked” is the most frequent response, followed by “disappointed” and “disgusted.” Other Clinton voters noted their surprise or disbelief about Trump’s victory.
Other important findings
Voters pessimistic on how Trump will impact race relations. Nearly half of voters (46%) say Trump’s election will lead to worse race relations, while only about half as many (25%) expect race relations to improve; 26% say his election won’t make a difference. Among Clinton voters, 84% expect race relations to worsen under Trump. Among Trump supporters, half expect improvement, while 38% say his election won’t make a difference.
Post-victory, most Trump backers confident in an accurate vote count. In August, just 38% of registered voters who supported Trump were very confident that their vote would be counted accurately. But in the aftermath of Trump’s victory, 75% expressed confidence that their votes were counted accurately. The views of Clinton supporters showed no change: After the election 67% were confident that their votes were counted accurately.
Most expect woman president, eventually. Following Clinton’s defeat, a sizable majority of voters (79%) still expect there will be a female president “in their lifetime.” There are no significant differences in these opinions among men and women, or Clinton supporters and Trump backers.
Voters say press has too much influence. Voters grade the press very negatively, and most (57%) say it had too much influence on the outcome of the election. Just 27% say the press had the right amount of influence on the election, while 13% say it had too little influence. About six-in-ten Trump voters (62%) say the press had too much influence, as do 50% of Clinton voters.