With less than six months before the 2016 presidential election, the presumptive nominees of both major parties are starting to shift their focus away from the primaries and toward the general election. As they do so, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and businessman Donald Trump both face an uphill battle in winning the support of independents, according to new data from Reputation Institute's 2016 U.S. Presidential Election RepTrak® Study.
In May, the U.S. Presidential Election RepTrak® Study garnered 2,659 respondents from the U.S. general public, and found that while Clinton is gaining momentum among Democrats compared with Trump among Republicans, neither candidate has built a strong reputation among the independent voters who will likely determine the outcome of the election.
Unlike traditional polls that help identify which candidates voters support, the monthly Presidential RepTrak® survey uncovers why voters support or don't support a particular candidate by measuring perceptions of the candidates' platforms across seven reputational dimensions: economic growth, national security, education and innovation, global relations, health and wellness, social investment and executive leadership.
The RepTrak® Pulse score represents a candidate's overall reputation. A score above 80 out of a possible 100 is considered "excellent," though no candidate has achieved an excellent score since the Presidential RepTrak® began collecting data in March. "Strong" scores are between 70 and 79.9, "average" between 60 and 69.9, "weak" between 40 and 59.9 and "poor" between 0 and 39.9.
Both Clinton and Trump earned poor Pulse scores among independent voters, and they virtually tied on the executive leadership dimension, with Trump leading by just half a point. They split weak victories on the remaining six dimensions, with Clinton leading on education, global relations, health and social investment, and Trump leading on economic growth and national security.
In order to woo independents nationally, Clinton needs to persuade independents of her ability to drive economic growth and strengthen national security. For Trump, it's the opposite -- he needs to display a sense of caring on social issues to enhance his reputation.
While neither candidate is on strong footing among independents, Clinton is building momentum among Democrats nationally. For the first time since the beginning of the study in March, Clinton achieved a strong Pulse score of 70.8, up seven points since April, and earned strong scores on all seven rational dimensions. Sixty-nine percent of Democrats strongly agree that they would vote for Clinton.
Democratic voters perceive Clinton as being genuine, welcoming open discussion, delivering on her promises and delivering consistent experience. Members of her party view her as friendly, honest, concerned and charming, while at the same time being ambitious and reliable.
In contrast, Trump has a weak reputation among Republican voters, earning a Pulse score of 52.9, but moving up from his poor score of 48.9 in April. Though Trump's overall score has increased thanks to average scores on economic growth, national security and executive leadership, he remains weak on education and innovation, global relations, health and wellness, and social investment. Fifty-nine percent of Republicans strongly agree that they would vote for him.
If there's one major takeaway from the May Presidential Election RepTrak® data, it's that both parties' presumptive candidates have a lot of work to do to build stronger reputations among their own bases and the crucial independent bloc. Come Election Day, voters of all stripes want to cast a ballot for a candidate they think has the platform and leadership abilities to grow the economy, protect the nation and improve Americans' lives.