Republicans Say Campaign Taking Toll on Party Image

Republicans Say Campaign Taking Toll on Party Image

Republicans Say Campaign Taking Toll on Party Image

The FINANCIAL -- With the 2016 presidential primary season more than half over, 63% of Republicans say the continuing campaign for the GOP nomination is hurting the Republican Party. By contrast, Democrats are markedly more comfortable with the effect the primaries are having on their party's image. Only 24% of Democrats believe the campaign for the Democratic nomination is negatively affecting their party.

Republicans are more likely now to say the campaign is hurting their party than they were in February 2012, earlier in that year's campaign, when responses to this same question showed 40% saying it was hurting the party and 57% saying it was not.

These findings are based on interviewing conducted April 15-17 as part of Gallup Daily tracking. The large difference between Republicans' and Democrats' perceived effect of the campaign is notable because neither party has settled on a nominee, and both are witnessing rancorous battles between the candidates who are still standing.

Republicans' higher level of concern about the effect of the campaign on their party may reflect the harsh personal nature of some of the Republican candidates' attacks and counterattacks, and the looming potential battles over delegates and convention procedures in Cleveland in July. While Donald Trump's GOP detractors may not like what the businessman's front-runner status means for their party, just over half of Republicans view him favorably, and many of these supporters may be troubled by speculation that party insiders are conspiring to deny Trump the nomination.

Democrats also have some disputes over "superdelegates" and other details of the nominating process, but neither of the Democratic candidates has been vociferously critical of their party's structure, as has been the case on the Republican side.

About six in 10 Trump and Ted Cruz supporters say the campaign is hurting the party. The smaller number of Republicans who support John Kasich are somewhat more likely than the others to say the process is hurting the party.

Democrats More Likely Than Republicans to Be Pleased With Selection of Candidates

A slight majority of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents -- 55% -- say they are pleased with the selection of candidates in the 2016 presidential race, while 42% say they wish someone else were running. Republicans are less likely to be content; 44% of them are pleased with the Republican candidates and 55% wish for an alternative.

Republican dissatisfaction with the selection of candidates may reflect disappointment with the winnowed-down field of three GOP candidates still in the running, after at least 15 candidates started the process of running last year. Additionally, none of the three remaining GOP candidates have high favorability scores among Republicans, with Trump at 55% favorable, Cruz at 52% and Kasich at 50%.

Still, although Republicans' satisfaction with their nomination choices trails that of Democrats, it is similar to past elections. The 44% satisfied with their choice is identical to what Gallup found in February 2012, when Mitt Romney was battling Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul for that year's Republican nomination. It is also similar to the 46% who were generally pleased with the GOP field in February 1996, when Bob Dole was the runaway leader.

By contrast, majorities of Republicans were pleased in February and March 1992, when Republican President George H.W. Bush was running for re-election. And even larger percentages -- 61% and 70% -- were pleased in the spring and fall of 2007 with the emerging 2008 GOP field, although the question used in those surveys was slightly different.

Democrats' current satisfaction with their field exceeds the 42% satisfied in 1992 and the 48% in 2002. Gallup did not ask a comparable question of Democrats in the 1996 or 2012 elections, when a Democratic president was running for re-election, but in 2007, 73% to 80% were pleased with the field as it was shaping up -- led by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. At this point, both Clinton and Bernie Sanders have a favorable rating from about two-thirds or more of Democrats.

On both sides, partisans who support their party's front-runners are the most likely to say they are pleased with the selection of candidates running for the nomination. Trump supporters (60%) are more likely to be pleased with the selection of candidates than are Cruz (44%) or in particular Kasich (12%) supporters. And among Democrats, Clinton supporters (62%) are somewhat more likely to be pleased than Sanders supporters (47%). Presumably, some supporters of candidates who are not in the lead interpret the question to be measuring pleasure with the leading candidates at this juncture.

Bottom Line

The contest for the Republican nomination has been a long and arduous battle among a large field of candidates, with Trump playing a starring role. A long string of nationally televised candidate debates has drawn huge audiences. But more recently, the big GOP newsmaker has been engaged in increasing levels of back-and-forth criticism with the remaining candidates, coupled with reports that some prominent Republicans are trying to foil Trump's bid.

Whatever the precise reason, most Republicans now believe the primary process is hurting the party, and this could imply that Republicans fear this in turn will cause the party to suffer in the fall general election. Still, while the majority of Republicans would like to see someone else in the race, the 44% who are satisfied with the current slate of candidates is not historically low.

Meanwhile, the Democratic race has also been heating up, with Clinton and Sanders showing more willingness to launch unfettered attacks on the other's policies and fitness for the presidency. Yet the majority of Democrats are satisfied with the field, and most doubt the lingering battle is doing their party much harm.