As Debate Looms, Voters Still Distrust Clinton and Trump

As Debate Looms, Voters Still Distrust Clinton and Trump

As Debate Looms, Voters Still Distrust Clinton and Trump

The FINANCIAL -- Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump continue to struggle to overcome Americans' perceptions of their lack of honesty. About a third of U.S. voters are willing to say that the terms "honest and trustworthy" apply to either Clinton or to Trump, putting honesty at or near the bottom of a list of 11 attributes tested.

These results are from Gallup's Sept. 14-18 update of Americans' assessments of how well each of 11 qualities and characteristics fits the two major-party presidential candidates. The data provide an understanding of how the public views the candidates heading into the first presidential debate on Monday.

"Honesty and trustworthy" was last among the 11 attributes for Clinton and was second-worst for Trump, only above his rating on "has the experience it takes to be president." Trump's low rating on experience contrasts with Clinton's high rating -- it is her top dimension -- creating the biggest gap in U.S. voters' views of the two candidates across all qualities tested.

Overall, Clinton does statistically better than Trump on five of the dimensions tested. In addition to experience, Clinton's perceived advantages include displaying good judgment in a crisis, managing the government effectively, being likable and caring about people like you, according to Gallup.

Trump does better than Clinton on two dimensions: being healthy enough to be president and standing up to special interest groups.

The two candidates are essentially tied on the other four dimensions tested, including being honest and trustworthy, being a strong and decisive leader, being able to get things done and being able to bring about change the country needs.

Health has been in the news often over the past two weeks and provides the second-biggest gap (17 percentage points) in views of the two candidates. The latest research was in the field just after Clinton fell ill at a 9/11 ceremony in New York, leading her to announce that she had pneumonia and would take a break from the campaign trail for several days. Last week, Trump also released some of his medical information on the "Dr. Oz" television program. Other Gallup research shows that Americans feel the health of a president is important to his or her ability to be a good leader.

Americans, on average, rate the two candidates lowest on honesty and being able to bring about the changes the country needs. This provides some understanding of possible reasons why both candidates get such high unfavorable ratings overall, and it provides an indication of the challenges both candidates will need to address in the coming debate.

On the other hand, Americans give the two candidates the highest combined average scores for being healthy, being strong and decisive leaders, and getting things done.

Americans' ratings of Clinton on all dimensions (excluding health, which Gallup included for the first time in September) are modestly higher now than they were when Gallup last tested them in May -- an increase that could reflect the timing of the May survey, when Clinton was still competing against Bernie Sanders. But the relative rank order of the dimensions for each candidate has not changed at all. In other words, even with the enormous amount of campaign-related activity that has taken place over the past four months, including the two conventions in July, the public's views of the relative strengths and weaknesses of both candidates have remained remarkably stable.

This lack of change in the rank order of the dimensions for each candidate reflects that both candidates are very well-known and established figures, and it shows their images are pretty fixed in the public's mind.

Bottom Line

The first presidential debate on Sept. 26 at Hofstra University in Long Island will put the two candidates simultaneously on the same stage for the first time in this long campaign. It will provide Americans with a renewed opportunity to assess where the candidates stand on important issues as well as their personal characteristics. Clinton and Trump will enter the debate with high unfavorable ratings and a populace that tends to doubt their honesty and trustworthiness.

Clinton clearly has the edge over Trump in terms of the perception that she has the experience needed to be president, but the Republican challenger will most likely continue to attempt to turn that into a liability rather than an asset. At the same time, the data show that just 41% of voters say that either candidate can bring about the changes the country needs, suggesting that Trump has not yet been able to turn his political newcomer status into a major differentiator against his opponent.

Still, Americans appear to be relatively fixed in the way they rate each candidate on these dimensions, which could suggest that despite the probable record-high viewership of the debate, Americans' post-debate views of the candidates may not change much.