Discover more from Parakypsas
Who do voters like?
Breaking down 2024 Presidential candidate favorability
The Public Religion Research Institute just released the results of its latest survey looking at how Americans view candidates for the 2024 Presidential election. Rather than simply asking them who they would vote for if the election were today, the survey asks respondents to rate how favorably (or unfavorably) they view each candidate.1
The survey shows that Joe Biden is incredibly vulnerable heading into 2024. While 43% of Americans view Biden favorably, 53% view him unfavorably. That’s a net favorability of -10%. This lines up pretty well with Joe Biden’s approval rating, which currently sits at around 40%.2 The bottom line is most voters simply do not like President Biden or think he is going a good job as President.
In fact, President Biden’s net favorability of -10% would make him the fourth least liked Presidential candidate since polls have tracked candidate favorability.3
Thanks for reading Parakypsas! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Why does this matter?
It may sound simple, but voters tend to vote for the candidate they like the most. Favorability ratings as they exist today have accurately predicted every Presidential election since 19804 , with the notable exception of 2016 (more on that later).
A similar measure developed by Gallup called the “scalometer”5 rating would place candidates on a 10-point scale which could then be converted into a favorability rating. Using this measure, going back to 1956, only one candidate has ever won the general election with a negative net favorability rating: Donald Trump in 2016.
So what was so different about the 2016 race? The 2016 race featured the two least popular Presidential candidates of all time.6 It should not be surprising then, that, in an election where both candidates were so greatly disliked, voters turned to other factors to distinguish the candidates.
The only other time7 where the candidate with the higher scalometer ratings failed to win the general election was 1980. Ronald Reagan, though viewed much more favorably than recent candidates (net favorability of +27%), was not viewed quite as favorably as Jimmy Carter (net favorability of +36%). Of course, Ronald Reagan won in an electoral landslide, but this is likely because of a late surge which wasn’t fully captured in the scalometer polling.8
Generally, though, the candidate with the higher favorability ratings wins. Joe Biden’s historically low favorability, then, presents an incredible opportunity for Republicans. That is, it would be if they didn’t nominate a candidate even less popular than Joe Biden.
Donald Trump is historically unpopular
The latest PPRI survey shows that Donald Trump would break his own record for least popular candidate of all time. In the last PPRI survey going into the 2016 election, Donald Trump’s net favorability was -32%.9 Today, his net favorability stands at -34%. And, though Donald Trump did manage to win that 2016 election, Hillary Clinton’s net favorability of -16% was significantly worse than Joe Biden’s present-day net favorability of -10%.
Does that mean that Donald Trump would lose a head-to-head matchup with Joe Biden? Not at all. Head-to-head polling suggests the election would be a toss-up.10 What it does mean is that Donald Trump would not be able to capitalize on the single biggest asset the Republicans have in the upcoming election: Joe Biden’s unpopularity.
Tim Scott is the most liked Republican candidate
Are there any other Republican candidates who would be better positioned to capitalize on Joe Biden’s unpopularity?
To parse this out, we need to understand that some candidates are better known than others. Being known means that more people have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of you (rather than no opinion at all). On the one hand, being known is certainly a good thing, because people don’t tend to vote for candidates they haven’t heard of. On the other hand, being unknown means you have an additional audience to reach out to and improve your numbers.
For example, Donald Trump is not going to be able to move public opinion on himself very much. At this point, virtually every American has a well-settled opinion of Donald Trump. This is reflected by the fact that only 2% of respondents were unable to rate Trump in response to this survey. That means 98% of Americans have a fairly settled opinion of Trump. Compare that to other Republican primary candidates like DeSantis (18% unable to rate), Haley (41% unable to rate), and Scott (53% unable to rate). Those other candidates have people out there they can still reach. Trump doesn’t.
So, it’s best to think about the campaign as two parts: (1) crafting an image and message that is likeable, and (2) getting the word out to as many people as possible so that more people actually like you because of it.
On the first point, it is best to look at the candidates’ favorability among the people who know enough about them to rate them. This gives you an idea of what percentage of people like the candidates once they get to know them:
There is currently only one Republican candidate with higher favorability than Joe Biden among respondents who were able to rate the candidate: Sen. Tim Scott. Tim Scott still has a net favorability of -6% among respondents, but that’s better than the -10% for Joe Biden, -28% for Nikki Haley, -34% for Ron DeSantis, and -34% for Donald Trump. It’s important to note that Ron DeSantis is just as disliked among the general electorate as Donald Trump.
On the second point, Tim Scott has a lot of work to do to get his message out. He is the least known candidate, at least among the five this survey asked about.
Less than half of the respondents surveyed knew enough about Tim Scott to give him a favorability rating. However, for purposes of the general election, you have to think that would change. Major party presidential candidates have no difficulty getting the word out about who they are. People may not like what they hear, but by the time November 2024 rolls around, we aren’t going to be worried about whether or not people know who the Republican candidate for President is. If Tim Scott is the Republican nominee, his known rate will be very near 100%. That’s why it is so important to consider what the candidate’s potential favorability rating is considering virtually everybody will be familiar with the candidate at that point.
Tim Scott is the Republican candidate best positioned to beat Joe Biden
Tim Scott often likes to say that he is “the candidate the far left fears the most.”11 It’s one thing to say that, but there is actually good reason to believe the claim. Just look at these headlines:
Cal Thomas, one of the most widely syndicated political columnists in American referred to Tim Scott as the “new Reagan.”12 Newt Gingrich also praised Tim Scott’s campaign message as “a model for the kind of unifying positive policies and positions which could grow into a Ronald Reagan-sized majority.”13
Gingrich was speaking about the principles Tim Scott focused on in a recent campaign ad:
If you’re able-bodied, you work.
If you take out a loan, you pay it back.
And if you commit a violent crime, you go to jail.
And if you’re a man, you should play sports against men.
America needs more victors and less victims.
Gingrich tested these statements with a non-partisan focus group and found that 71% agreed with his message while only 21% disagreed.14 As Gingrich said, “Republicans have an opportunity to take Sen. Scott’s proposition and turn it into a clear definition of why most Americans will favor a common-sense future over an unpopular, dysfunctional National Democratic Party vision.”15
But can Tim Scott win the primary?
That second point about getting the word out is a much bigger deal in primary elections. In a lot of ways, it’s the whole ball game. You have to get in front of enough people and let them know who you are and, even further, convince them you are a legitimate contender for the nomination before they will consider giving you their vote. Among Republican respondents, it is clear that Tim Scott also has a lot of work to do there:
That’s why it is so important that we have primaries and caucuses at the state level. It’s a lot easier for lesser-known candidates to generate that kind of familiarity in a specific state than across the whole country. This allows lesser-known candidates to receive coverage by finishing in a strong position in an early state, generating familiarity among voters in subsequent states.
As I discussed in my previous post, Tim Scott is hitting the ground hard in Iowa, the first state to host a Republican caucus. And, his efforts are beginning to see returns in the polls there. Tim Scott also just announced fundraising numbers that qualify him for the first Republican primary debate coming up on August 23.16
If Tim Scott has a good showing in that debate and continues his momentum in the polls in Iowa, he could pull off a strong finish in the Iowa caucuses on January 15.17 That doesn’t mean he has to win it. He just has to finish in a strong third, positioning him as a legitimate contender with Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis. That will get him attention.
And, as Republican voters start paying more attention to him, Tim Scott’s favorability indicates he has the potential to shine. That’s because his favorability ratings aren’t just strong among the general population, but also among Republican primary voters:
In fact, Tim Scott is the most popular candidate among Republican respondents as well, with a net favorability of +%54 among Republican respondents who know who he is. Compare that to Donald Trump (+37%), Ron DeSantis (+46%), and Nikki Haley (+33%) and it is easy to see why there is reason to be bullish on Tim Scott’s chances.
More specifically, the survey asks the respondent to identify for each person named whether they have a “very favorable,” “mostly favorable,” “mostly unfavorable,” or “very unfavorable” view of that person. The survey also gives the respondent the option to select that they have not heard of the person or to skip the question.
The only candidates less popular were Donald Trump in 2016 (-32%), Donald Trump in 2020 (-26%), and Hillary Clinton in 2016 (-16%).
These numbers go back to 1980. Here’s an article that analyzes favorability ratings from 1980 through 2012: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/trump-is-more-unpopular-than-clinton-is-and-that-matters/ Here’s an article that shows Joe Biden had higher net favorability ratings than Donald Trump going into the 2020 election: https://news.gallup.com/poll/320411/trump-biden-favorable-ratings-below.aspx
Gallup's "scalometer" rating format asks respondents to share their views of people in the news using a score from +1 to +5 to indicate degrees of favorability toward a person (with +5 being highly favorable) and from -1 to -5 to indicate degrees of negative opinion (with -5 being highly unfavorable). The measure does not include data for the 1988, 1996, and 2000 elections. https://news.gallup.com/poll/322292/candidate-favorable-ratings-2016-low.aspx
I am not counting 2008 despite the fact that Barack Obama’s net favorability of 27% was less than John McCain’s net favorability of 28%. I would argue that is well within the margin of error. It should also be noted that the 1988, 1996, and 2000 elections were not included in the data analyzed.
Reagan appears to have decisively won the final Presidential debate which occurred just one week before the election which combined with the one-year anniversary of the Iran hostage crisis to create a catastrophic finish for Carter leading up to the election. https://news.gallup.com/poll/111451/late-upsets-rare-happened.aspx
PRRI 2016 American Values Survey, September 2016. Available for download at: https://prri.parc.us.com/client/index.html#/search