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Sharp Drop in Views That Candidates Talk About Key Issues

Sharp Drop in Views That Candidates Talk About Key Issues

Story Highlights

  • 48% say candidates talking about issues, down from 56% in September
  • Drop evident among both Republicans and Democrats
  • Lowest response since 1992

PRINCETON, N.J. -- The proportion of Americans who say the presidential candidates are talking about the issues that they -- the people -- really care about has dropped to its lowest point yet in the current election cycle. Less than half of Americans (48%) say the candidates are talking about the issues that really matter, down sharply from the nine previous months, and the lowest in Gallup's history.

Trend: Are the presidential candidates talking about issues you really care about, or not?

These results are from Gallup's Oct. 17-18 update on key election indicators, measured after the first two presidential debates but just before Wednesday night's final debate. The current percentage of Americans who say the candidates are "talking about issues you really care about" marks an eight-percentage-point drop in agreement since September and is 11 points below the January through September average of 59%.

Before this year, Gallup asked this question periodically between 1992 and 2011. During that time, the lowest percentage of Americans saying the candidates were addressing the issues they care about was 53% in February/March and April 1992, when the political coverage was focused in part on Bill Clinton's past, including extramarital affairs.

But in that election year, in which Democrat Clinton and independent Ross Perot challenged the incumbent George H.W. Bush, Americans became more likely to say candidates were addressing important issues as the campaign progressed. By late October 1992, 76% said the candidates were talking about important issues.

Gallup observed a similar increase during 2000, with 77% of registered voters in October of that year saying the candidates were addressing the issues -- compared with 54% in January.

So not only is the current measure the lowest in Gallup's trend, it stands in contrast to these two prior election years in which Americans became more likely to believe the candidates were talking about important issues as the campaigns progressed.

Are the presidential candidates talking about issues you really care about, or not?
Yes
%
Dec 15-18, 2011 57
Jan 10-13, 2008 72
Oct 13-15, 2000^ 77
Mar 10-12, 2000 60
Jan 7-10, 2000 54
May 9-12, 1996 57
Oct 23-25, 1992 76
Sep 11-15, 1992 66
Apr 20-22, 1992 53
Feb 28-Mar 1, 1992 53
Jan 6-9, 1992 60
^ Based on registered voters
Gallup

Americans' lower level of agreement that the candidates are talking about important issues occurred as the news focused on the release of a 2005 videotape showing Donald Trump making lewd and controversial comments about women. Trump also has attempted to draw attention to women who have accused former President Clinton of sexual improprieties, bringing up this topic in the second debate on Oct. 9.

Two other measures included in the October election update were unchanged from September, suggesting that the public has not so much been souring on the presidential campaign over the past month as specifically noting the shift in campaign focus. About three in 10 Americans say the campaign is being conducted in a way that "makes you feel as though the election process is working as it should." Almost six in 10 say there is at least one candidate running who would make a good president.

Downturn Evident Among Both Republicans and Democrats

Perceptions that the candidates are talking about the right issues have nosedived among both Republicans and Democrats. The 51% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and 49% of Democrats and leaners who answer "yes" are the lowest of the year for both groups. (Thirty percent of the small group of independents and those who don't have a party identification answer yes.)

With few exceptions this year, Republicans have been more likely than Democrats to say the candidates are talking about issues they care about. Republicans were particularly positive on this measure in the early months of the year and again in June and July.

Trend: Are the presidential candidates talking about issues you really care about, or not? By party

Implications

The drop in the percentage of Americans who say the candidates are talking about the issues they care about almost certainly reflects the increased focus on the character and temperament of Trump and Hillary Clinton. Separate Gallup research shows that Americans on a daily basis have mentioned the word "women" more than any other when asked in recent weeks what they have read, seen or heard about Trump, while "emails" is the most commonly mentioned word for Clinton, as it has been throughout the campaign.

The question doesn't ask if Americans think this shift away from issues is a good or a bad thing. Given that perceptions that the campaign is working the way it should didn't change this month, Americans may not be that concerned that issues have taken a back seat. Plus, the third presidential debate occurred just after these interviews were conducted. Although the headlines coming out of the event focused on Trump's comment about not accepting the results of the election, most of the 90 minutes focused on the candidates' positions on issues. If the candidates spend more time talking about their plans and issues and less time attempting to denigrate each other, public perceptions about the campaign's focus could change in the remaining weeks before Election Day.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 17-18, 2016, on the Gallup U.S. Daily survey, with a random sample of 1,013 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup U.S. Daily works.

Gallup


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