America has reached the natural conclusion of the two-party system: a pair of candidates completely reviled by the other side. The winners of that booby prize, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, have more haters than supporters, according to the latest Washington Post / ABC News poll. Three-quarters of Democrats view Clinton favorably, while the vast majority have a negative view of Trump; the reverse holds true for Republicans (though plenty of them hate Trump, too).
The two candidates’ net favorability dove underwater in mid-2015 and hasn’t surfaced since. What’s harder to pin down, however, is the reason why they’re so hated. Both have faced scandal; both have been reborn a few times over. So how did they both become pegged with the qualities spelled out in their campaign nicknames: Crooked Hillary and Dangerous Donald?
Morning Consult recently took a stab at answering that question. Fielding a poll of 2,000 registered voters between May 27-30, the firm asked respondents to name the presidential candidate they disliked the most and pick two reasons explaining their antipathy. The conclusion: While most Hillary-haters said they found the former secretary of state untrustworthy and suspected she was corrupt, it was harder to find consensus against Trump.
Nearly half of Americans who dislike Clinton say she can’t be trusted and listed it as one of their biggest concerns. More than a third said she is corrupt. And 21 percent said her positions change with political winds, which seems a corollary to the trustworthiness question. But very few of her detractors say she’s unqualified, or that she doesn’t know enough about the issues. And practically no one believes she is a racist.
Trump, on the other hand, faces a different set of challenges among voters.
While the New York billionaire doesn’t have to navigate the colossal icebergs of dislike that afflict Clinton, his faults are arguably worse. A quarter of his detractors said racism is his biggest flaw; that figure jumps to 35 percent for Hispanic voters and 40 percent for black voters. Another 20 percent said Trump doesn’t have the right kind of experience to be president, a reason largely cited by older voters. Age also accounted for differences in other areas of the survey. Retirees, for example, were half as likely to name sexism as one of their top gripes with Trump and three times more likely than their youngest counterparts to say Clinton is too liberal. And voters who came of age during Bill Clinton’s presidency are the most likely to say Hillary Clinton is “too divisive.”
In all, Clinton had six qualities that annoyed more than a tenth of the electorate; Trump has 10.
But here’s the study’s biggest flaw: By definition, it doesn’t break new ground. By giving respondents a menu of well-known complaints against candidates and asking them to pick two, the survey narrows itself to poll-tested smears most Americans already know about. While open-ended questions are tougher to poll, they can yield better insights. That’s to say it would have been interesting to see what unprompted voters had to say.
Regardless, if admitting a problem is the first step to solving it, could this data spark some soul-searching on the campaign trail? Probably not. Last month, The New York Times reported that Clinton and Trump plan to focus on their opponent’s flaws, rather than fix their own:
Clinton allies, for example, see an opportunity to win the battleground state of North Carolina because of Mr. Trump’s sharply unfavorable ratings with women.
The Trump campaign believes the number of white Democratic voters who find Mrs. Clinton untrustworthy could help tip Ohio and Pennsylvania into its column.
“This election is not going to be about issues; it’s going to be a race about character and temperament between two of the most unpopular political candidates in history,” said Steve Schmidt, who managed Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential race.
Not much room for redemption there. As the Post poll showed, each candidate has a base that adores them and an opposition that hates them; it appears they’re content to stick with that status quo, or powerless to change it. I imagine the general election falling along the lines of a Japanese kaiju film: Two behemoths, both hated and feared, locked in a struggle to the death that ultimately destroys a mid-size city. Look out, Cleveland and Philadelphia.