Q&A of the Day – Likeability & The 2024 Presidential Election

Q&A of the Day – Likeability & The 2024 Presidential Election 

Each day I feature a listener question sent by one of these methods.   

Email: brianmudd@iheartmedia.com  

Social: @brianmuddradio 

iHeartRadio: Use the Talkback feature – the microphone button on our station’s page in the iHeart app.    

Today’s Entry: Brian, You once did a report on how the likability of a candidate plays a big part in their ability to win. But is there any info on how many people vote against a candidate because they hate him. This, of course, is the biggest issue with Trump in that no matter how big his support is, there are millions of people who literally hate him. I know many of them. How big of a factor is this in the upcoming election? 

Bottom Line: There’s no doubt that historically likeability has been a key factor in determining presidential winners. Likeability plays both ways in politics. Independent of other factors, it’s much easier to turn out voters who want to vote for a candidate they identify with and like, than it is to get them to vote primarily due to their dislike of others. This is why the most common, and often the most effective form of campaign ads over the past thirty or so years have been attack ads. There’s huge value in having a political opponent who’s viewed in a negative light. That said it’s not the end all be all either. To gain an idea of the level of importance likeability has played in recent presidential election cycles to answer today’s question I’ll start by evaluating the likeability and motivating factors behind the voters who elected our four most recent presidents.  

The Pew Research Center has conducted extensive voter analysis studies for decades and provides a great baseline for understanding how important likeability is in determining presidential winners. The way they have historically asked this question is like this: Is your vote more for (the candidate you’re voting for) or against (the other major party candidate)? Starting with George W. Bush’s victories over Al Gore and John Kerry here’s how voters answered:  

  • In 2000, 60% of Bush voters said they voted for him with only 33% voting against Gore 
  • In 2004, 77% of Bush voters said they voted for him with only 19% voting against Kerry 

Clearly Bush’s likeability was the dominant factor in why people turned out to vote for him. And notably, his likeability margin was much higher in his reelection bid in 2004 which was the more decisive victory of the two. That takes us to Barrack Obama’s wins in 2008 and 2012. 

  • In 2008, 71% of Obama voters said they were voting for him with only 24% who said they were voting against McCain 
  • In 2012, 74% of Obama voters said they were voting for him with only 22% who said they were voting against Romney 

Once again, we see that a winning candidate’s strong likeability among the base of voters who turned out was the driving factor for his two wins. And that takes us to the 2016 election. This one is the election that proved to be different.  

  • In 2016, Only 44% of Trump voters said they were voting for Donald Trump. 53% of Trump’s voters said they were voting against Hillary Clinton 

This is telling not just because 9% more of Trump’s voters in his 2016 win were mostly motivated to vote out of their dislike of Clinton, but also because most of Hillary Clinton’s voters said they voted for her as opposed to Trump (53%-46%). Somewhat unsurprisingly, given the result that ran counter to the four elections preceding it, the 2016 election featured two candidates with negative favorability ratings which appears to have changed the dynamics of the race enough to allow for the eventual outcome (though it is worth pointing out that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote – so this is within the context of an Electoral College conversation. Literally the candidate who was preferred most by their base of voters won the most votes). And this takes us to 2020. Which is a different version of a similar thing.  

  • In 2020, only 36% of Joe Biden’s voters said they were voting for him, while 63% of his voters said they were voting against Trump 

That’s especially notable in the context of the likeability conversation because Trump entirely flipped the script in 2020 compared to 2016. 71% of Trump’s voters said they voted for him with only 29% who said they were voting against Biden. So, what we’ve seen is that Trump is an outlier. He won the presidency based primarily on disdain for the opposing candidate and he lost the presidency based primarily on disdain for him. And that takes us to today’s question. How big of a factor is this in the upcoming election?  

The easy, knee jerk reaction to a potential Biden – Trump rematch is that the outcome would be likely to simply be more of the same. That’s possible, however with the likeability factor in mind, the race would not at all be the same. Joe Biden’s favorability rating averaged 51% on Election Day 2020. Biden’s favorability rating is at 40% today. Donald Trump’s favorability rating was 42% on Election Day 2020. Trump’s favorability rating stands at 38% today. Both Trump and Biden have lower favorability ratings today than they did when they first faced off, However Biden’s 9-point advantage back then has been reduced to just a 2-point advantage today. Given how close several swing states were in determining the 2020 election – that difference could potentially be enough to swing back into Trump’s favor. In other words, should there be a rematch between the two, the election would look far more like the 2016 election than the 2020 election – including by way of turnout which would almost certainly be lower as well. If the election is anything other than a Biden – Trump matchup we might be able to expect a return to historical norms in which the most liked candidate wins.  

Sponsored Content

Sponsored Content