Election 2008

Wanted in Next President: Honesty, Strong Leadership

Prior Washington experience not viewed as important

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- As the American people prepare to elect a new president next year, they tell Gallup they are looking for an honest person who has strong leadership skills above all else. These are the major findings from a recent exploration into the topic of what Americans want in the next commander in chief, which used both open-ended questions to allow Americans to describe their views on the matter in their own words, and a closed-ended question asking them to rate the importance of 16 different characteristics. The survey was conducted March 26-29, 2007 among 1,006 members of Gallup's nationally representative household panel.

In addition to honesty and leadership, Americans attach a good deal of importance to managerial competence. A majority also say it is essential that the next president focuses on uniting the country. Americans assign far less importance to the candidates' experience, including whether they have served in Washington.

Most Important Qualities for the Next President

The poll first asked the following open-ended question:

Now, thinking ahead to the 2008 presidential election -- can you tell me in your own words what is the most important quality you are looking for in the next president?

"Honesty" is the theme that emerges most strongly from the data -- 33% say they are looking for a president who is honest and straightforward. Many Americans offer comments along these same lines, such as saying the next president should have integrity (10%), have good moral character (5%), be trustworthy (4%), and be honorable (4%).

Leadership is the second most common response in the data, mentioned by 16% of Americans.

Additionally, 10% desire competence or the ability to govern effectively, 9% want a president who will represent the people rather than special interests or a political party, and 8% want the next president to give domestic affairs a higher priority than foreign affairs.

2007 Mar 26-29

%

Honesty/straightforward

33

Leadership/strength

16

Competent/capable/able to govern effectively

10

Integrity

10

Listen to/represent the people and not special
interests or party

9

Put U.S. first/Focus on domestic issues

8

Intelligence

5

Good moral character/family values

5

Vision for the country

5

Trustworthy

4

Win/finish/end the war in Iraq

4

Honorable

4

Good on economy

3

Foreign policy experience

3

Christian

3

Consensus-builder/Bring country together

2

Conservative

2

Good on terrorism issue

1

Experience (general)

1

Common sense

1

Charisma

*

 

Other

4

Nothing in particular

1

No opinion

3

* = Less than 0.5%

Note: Percentages add to more than 100% due to multiple responses.

Essential Characteristics for the Next President

Leadership trumps the other 15 characteristics Gallup asked the public to rate as being "absolutely essential," important, or not important for the next president to have. Seventy-seven percent of Americans say it is essential the next president be "a strong and decisive leader." Honesty was not included in the list specifically, but 68% say it is essential the next president has "good moral character." Two other items were viewed as essential requirements for the next president by a majority of Americans: being an effective manager (63%) and focusing on uniting the country (59%).

Next I'm going to read a list of qualities and characteristics. For each, please say how important you think it is for the next president to have -- is it absolutely essential, important, but not essential, or not that important? How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?



Essential

Important,
not
essential

Not that
important

 

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

Is a strong and decisive leader

77

22

1

*

Has good moral character

68

29

2

*

Is an effective manager

63

34

3

*

Would focus on uniting the country

59

35

5

*

Has been highly consistent with the issue
positions he or she has taken over time

47

46

6

*

Has experience dealing with foreign policy
at the government level

46

48

5

*

Pays attention to public opinion when
making decisions

43

43

14

*

Has been faithful to his or her spouse

37

40

22

1

Has a lot of experience in government

34

50

15

*

Is an inspiring speaker

24

56

20

*

Sticks closely to the principles of his or
her party

22

45

33

*

Has experience running a business

19

47

34

*

Has never used illegal drugs

19

39

42

*

Attends religious services regularly

18

38

44

*

Has worked in Washington a long time

10

35

54

*

Has served in the military

7

36

57

*

* = Less than 0.5%

While experience is generally thought to be a desirable quality in any job candidate, Americans in general do not view it as a must-have for the next president. Just 34% say it is essential the next president has a lot of experience in government. Americans attach slightly more importance to foreign policy experience (46% say it is essential), but view federal government experience as a far lesser consideration (only 10% say it is essential the next president has worked in Washington a long time; 54% say this is not that important).

Media coverage of the various candidates has revealed some potential vulnerabilities in their background as they attempt to gain the necessary support to win the White House. The poll offers insight into the likelihood that some of these issues could become a serious problem in the campaign.

  • The Iraq war has been a central issue in the Democratic campaign, and some of the leading candidates -- in particular Hillary Rodham Clinton -- have been criticized for their previous pro-war positions. On the Republican side, the candidates' past positions on abortion and gay rights have been a major discussion point, most notably Mitt Romney's change from a more liberal to more conservative stance on these issues. The poll suggests that Americans do not take flip-flopping lightly -- 47% say it is essential that the next president has taken highly consistent issue positions over time.

  • Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich, two of the leading Republican contenders, have been married three times, and Gingrich recently admitted to being unfaithful to his second wife. Most Americans say that being faithful to one's spouse is important, but only 37% say it is essential that the next president be faithful.

  • Past presidential candidates, including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, were criticized for their past military service (or lack thereof). McCain stands apart from Giuliani, Gingrich, and Romney for his service during the Vietnam War. But only 7% say it is essential the next president has served in the military, 36% say it is important, and 57% don't view it as being that important.

  • Barack Obama admitted in his autobiography that he had used cocaine when he was younger. While that is not likely to gain him support, it may not cost him much, either. Only 19% say it is essential that the next president has refrained from using any illegal drugs during his or her lifetime.

In their ratings, Americans show a clear preference in their view of who the president should pay attention to when making decisions. Forty-three percent say it is essential the next president pay attention to public opinion when making decisions. That is nearly double the percentage who say it is essential the president "stick closely to the principles of his or her party."

Survey Methods

Results for this panel study are based on telephone interviews with 1,006 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 26-29, 2007. Respondents were randomly drawn from Gallup's nationally representative household panel, which was originally recruited through random selection methods. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/27085/wanted-next-president-honesty-strong-leadership.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030