The FINANCIAL -- Trump and Clinton are currently among the worst-rated presidential candidates of the last seven decades according to Gallup's long-term "scalometer" trend. In the race to the bottom, however, Trump's 42% highly unfavorable score easily outpaces Clinton's 33%. Prior to now, 1964 Republican nominee Barry Goldwater had the highest negative score, with 26% rating him highly unfavorably in October 1964.
Gallup's 10-point scalometer favorability scale asks respondents to name a number between +1 and +5 to express a favorable view of a candidate, with +5 indicating a very favorable view. They are asked to name a number from -1 to -5 to indicate an unfavorable view, with -5 being very unfavorable. The survey was conducted by telephone June 14-23 with a nationwide sample of U.S. adults.
Since 1992, Gallup has primarily measured candidate favorability using a binary favorable/unfavorable choice. But Gallup does use the 10-point scale once or twice each campaign to allow for historical comparisons prior to 1992. The scalometer typically produces positive ratings about 10 points higher than the binary favorable scores.
Trump's Total Favorability Worse Than Goldwater's
In addition to his record-setting highly unfavorable rating, Trump's overall image on the scalometer tilts more negatively than Goldwater's did at his lowest point in 1964. Trump's combined ratings are 42% favorable and 59% unfavorable whereas Goldwater's broke about even at 43% favorable and 47% unfavorable. Clinton's even division in favorability puts her ahead of Trump and Goldwater, but behind all other candidates back to 1956 in terms of their final pre-election ratings.
Clinton's overall image on the scalometer -- 51% favorable vs. 50% unfavorable -- is also better than Trump's and slightly more positive than Goldwater's in October 1964. However, her ratings are no match for the Democratic incumbent in that year's election. President Lyndon Johnson had extraordinarily high positive ratings on the scale, reflecting his strong popularity less than a year after he assumed the presidency following John F. Kennedy's assassination. Johnson's total favorable score at the end of the 1964 race was a stellar 81%, with just 13% viewing him unfavorably, and he went on to win re-election by a historically high 61% to 38% in the popular vote.
Both Johnson and Goldwater were viewed a bit better at earlier points in the 1964 race than they were in October of that year. In particular, majorities viewed Goldwater favorably in Gallup's May and August polls. However, even Goldwater's 54% and 52% total favorable scores from these polls stand as some of the lowest in Gallup's records for a presidential nominee.
The following table displays the final scores for the major candidates in each election since 1956, with no ratings available for 1988, 1996 or 2000. In some cases, the final reading was higher than ratings earlier in the election year, and in other cases, the final reading was lower, making it unclear which way Clinton's and Trump's might go between now and November.
It is clear from this table that high favorability ratings on the 10-point scale are relegated to the past. No presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1984 has ended his campaign with a total favorable scalometer score above 70%. The highest final pre-election favorable score for more recent candidates was 64%, earned by John McCain in 2008, just a week before he lost to Barack Obama, who was rated favorably by 62%.
It is also worth noting that the lowest final pre-election scalometer favorable rating of any winning candidate since 1956 was 61%, received by George W. Bush in 2004. His opponent that year, John Kerry, had a 57% total favorable score.
Candidates' Relative "Enthusiasm Quotient" May Matter Most
While the overall favorability of the Republican and Democratic candidates was similar in several years, important differences emerge when focusing on the percentage rating the candidate a "+5" or "+4," what Gallup has referred to in the past as the "enthusiasm quotient" (or "EQ") for each candidate.
For instance, although Obama and McCain had nearly identical total favorable scores in 2008, Obama's highly favorable rating was significantly better: 37% for Obama vs. 28% for McCain. A similar phenomenon occurred in 1960, 1976 and 2004, when the winning candidate had an insignificant lead in overall favorability but a sizeable lead in high favorability. And in fact, in all elections but 1980, the candidate with the higher final "EQ" score won the election. That 1980 reading, from mid-October, may not have reflected Americans' impressions of the candidates at the end of the campaign, particularly after the late October debate between Reagan and Jimmy Carter.
In 2016, Clinton leads Trump by six points in high favorability -- 22% vs. 16% -- even as she leads him by nine points in total favorability. The wild card in this year's ratings is that more Americans view Clinton and Trump highly unfavorably than highly favorably, and to an unprecedented degree. Only two other candidates received such ratings since 1956 -- Goldwater in 1964 and independent candidate John Anderson in 1980 -- and in both cases, the negative tilt was far less than is seen with Clinton and Trump.
Trump's image in 2016 is worse than Goldwater's was in 1964, giving Trump -- at least for the moment -- the distinction of having the highest negative scores on Gallup's scalometer of any presidential candidate rated since 1956. But that is only half the equation. Clinton's ratings are not much better than Trump's and are nowhere near as high as those of Goldwater's opponent in 1964, Lyndon Johnson -- meaning the fundamentals are not in place for a re-run of the 1964 Democratic landslide.
Still, at present, Clinton beats Trump in total favorability as well as in high favorability from the American public. While favorable scores can and do change over the course of campaigns, she is currently positioned as the stronger candidate. However, her positioning would be improved by widening her lead over Trump in high favorability, not just total favorability.