Which Characteristics Are Most Desirable in the Next President?

by Joseph Carroll

Most Americans say that bringing change to Washington is desirable trait

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- A recent Gallup Panel poll asked Americans to indicate whether a variety of 20 "characteristics" -- including candidates' background, profession, and stance on issues -- would be desirable or undesirable for the next president to have. The results show that the most desirable trait of those tested would be to bring about change in Washington. A majority of Americans also say it would be desirable for the next president to be successful in business, to have served in the military or Congress, and to have a lot of experience in Washington. On the other hand, more than half of Americans say it would be undesirable for the next president to have worked as a lobbyist or to be 70 years old or older. Certain characteristics -- like a candidate's religion, marital history, race or ethnicity, financial background, and gender -- are viewed as neither desirable nor undesirable by most Americans.

The basic results from the Aug. 23-26, 2007 poll were as follows:

For each of the following, please say whether you, personally, think it would be a desirable characteristic for the next president to have, an undesirable characteristic, or if it wouldn't matter much to you either way. How about the candidate -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

 

 


2007 Aug 23-26
(sorted by "desirable")



Desirable



Undesirable

Doesn't matter
either way

 

%

%

%

Would bring about change in Washington

93

1

6

Has been successful in business

71

3

26

Has personally served in the military

58

2

39

Has served in the U.S. House or Senate

57

5

38

Has a lot of experience in Washington

56

13

31

Has been a state governor

50

2

48

Has a son or daughter who has served in the military

44

1

55

Has been mayor of a large city

38

6

55

Is a lawyer

19

23

58

Has changed positions on issues over time

19

42

38

Has limited experience in Washington

19

46

35

Is a woman

18

14

68

Has worked as a government lobbyist

14

52

34

Is a member of a racial or ethnic minority group

10

13

77

Is Catholic

8

6

86

Is personally wealthy

8

19

73

Is Mormon

6

22

72

Has strained relationships with his or her children

5

45

49

Is 70 years of age or older

5

52

43

Has been divorced

4

15

81

Out of the list included in the survey, the most desirable characteristic for the next president would be to bring about change in Washington. Ninety-three percent of Americans view this as desirable. A solid majority of Americans, 71%, also say it would be desirable for the next president to be successful in business. Other characteristics seen as desirable by a majority of Americans include having personally served in the military (58%), having served in the U.S. House or Senate (57%), and having a lot of experience in Washington. Half say having been a state governor is desirable.

One interesting result of this review is the fact that a majority of Americans apparently think that both being able to bring about change in Washington and having experience in Washington would be desirable. This is of interest given the current positioning battle within the Democratic party as challengers John Edwards and Barack Obama attempt to argue that they would bring about change in Washington as opposed to Hillary Clinton's "business as usual approach" given her long tenure as a Washington insider.

Americans react most negatively to two presidential characteristics: that a president would have worked as a government lobbyist, and that a president was 70 years of age or older. Fifty-two percent say each of these two characteristics would be undesirable. A plurality of Americans consider having limited experience in Washington (46%), having strained relationships with his or her children (45%), and having changed their positions on issues over time (42%) as undesirable traits.

The public views nine of the characteristics tested as neutral -- a majority says each does not matter to them either way. These include: being Catholic (86% does not matter either way); having been divorced (81%); belonging to a racial or ethnic minority group (77%); being personally wealthy (73%); being Mormon (72%); being a woman (68%); working as a lawyer (58%); having a child who has served in the military (55%); and having been a mayor of a large city (55%).

Still, more than one in five Americans say that two of these characteristics -- being Mormon (22% say this is undesirable), and being a lawyer (23%) -- are undesirable traits for a president, suggesting that these could have a negative impact in close primary races or in the general election.

Republicans, independents, and Democrats differ significantly on several of the attributes that would be desirable in the next president. Many of these differences could derive from characteristics possessed by current presidential candidates in the Republican and Democratic Party. Still, the most desirable characteristic among all three party groups is bringing about change in Washington -- a view shared by 89% of Republicans, 94% of independents, and 96% of Democrats.

Here are the full results among Republicans, independents, and Democrats:

 

Partisan Views of Desirable/Undesirable Characteristics
Aug. 23-26, 2007

 

Reps.

Inds.

Dems.

+

-

DM

+

-

DM

+

-

DM

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Would bring about change in
Washington

89

1

9

94

1

5

96

1

3

Has been successful in
business

80

3

16

68

2

30

67

3

29

Has personally served in the
military

71

1

28

56

3

41

49

2

49

Has been a state governor

59

1

40

48

2

50

45

3

53

Has a lot of experience in
Washington

56

13

32

51

14

34

63

11

26

Has served in the U.S. House
or Senate

55

6

39

52

5

42

63

4

33

Has a son or daughter who
has served in the military

50

1

49

41

2

57

41

2

57

Has been mayor of a large city

49

3

48

35

7

58

32

8

60

Has limited experience in
Washington

19

49

32

20

41

38

18

47

35

Has changed positions on
issues over time

17

48

35

19

39

40

21

40

38

Is a lawyer

13

29

58

17

24

58

26

17

57

Has worked as a
government lobbyist

12

49

37

10

59

30

19

48

33

Is Catholic

9

5

87

7

5

89

9

8

83

Is personally wealthy

9

11

80

5

22

73

10

22

67

Is a woman

8

26

66

13

12

75

34

4

62

Is 70 years of age or older

8

38

55

3

54

43

4

65

31

Is Mormon

7

21

71

3

20

77

7

24

69

Is a member of a racial or
ethnic minority group

6

13

81

7

11

82

17

15

67

Has strained relationships with
his or her children

5

54

41

4

42

54

8

40

52

Has been divorced

4

20

75

3

14

83

5

12

83

KEY:

+ refers to those who say the characteristic is desirable.
- refers to those who say the characteristic is undesirable.
DM refers to those who say the characteristic does not matter to them either way.

There are five characteristics that Republicans are substantially more likely than independents or Democrats to say would be desirable in the next president.

  • Seventy-one percent of Republicans say military service would be a desirable characteristic for the next president, while only 56% of independents and 49% of Democrats share this view. Of all of the leading presidential candidates in either party at this point, Arizona Sen. John McCain has previous military service. Republican candidate Duncan Hunter and Democratic hopeful Christopher Dodd also served.
  • Nearly 6 in 10 Republicans say serving as a state governor would be desirable. Fewer than half of independents (48%) and Democrats (45%) say this. Two Republican candidates, Mitt Romney (Massachusetts) and Mike Huckabee (Arkansas), and one Democratic candidate, Bill Richardson (New Mexico), have been state governors.
  • The leading Republican candidate, Rudy Giuliani, is the former mayor of New York City, so it is not surprising that Republicans (49%) are more inclined to say that having been mayor of a large city would be a desirable characteristic than are independents (35%) or Democrats (32%). Of the other candidates, only Dennis Kucinich, currently a Congressman from Ohio, has been a large-city mayor, having served as mayor of Cleveland from 1977 to 1979.
  • Republicans are slightly more likely than independents or Democrats to say that having a son or daughter who has served in the military would be a desirable trait in the next president. McCain has two sons serving in the military, and Delaware Senator and Democratic candidate Joe Biden has a son who is being deployed to Iraq next year. Romney has been criticized for his sons' lack of military service.
  • Although a majority of all three party groups say success in business would a desirable attribute, a higher percentage of Republicans (80%) rather than independents (68%) or Democrats (67%) say this would be desirable. Several presidential candidates have become relatively wealthy through various business enterprises, including in particular Romney (Bain Capital), but also including Edwards (legal field and other business associations since leaving the Senate in 2004), Giuliani (various consulting firms and other arrangements), Thompson (acting), and Clinton (book deals).

One area that stands out as a potential problem for Giuliani among his party faithful is his strained relationship with his two adult children. A majority of Republicans, 54%, say this would be an undesirable characteristic in the next president. By comparison, only about 4 in 10 independents and Democrats say this would be undesirable; a majority in both of these groups says this does not matter either way.

Democrats, meanwhile, are substantially more likely than Republicans to say that a president being 70 years of age or older would be an undesirable characteristic in the next president. Sixty-five percent of Democrats say a president in this age range would be undesirable, compared with 38% of Republicans. (A majority of independents say this would be undesirable as well.) Two Republican candidates -- McCain and Congressman Ron Paul -- are at least 70 years old.

Democrats also are slightly more likely than independents or Republicans to say having a lot of experience in Washington and serving in Congress would be desirable characteristics in the next president.

  • Sixty-three percent of Democrats say it would be desirable for the next president to have a lot of experience in Washington -- slightly higher than the 51% among independents and 56% among Republicans.
  • Democrats (63%) are slightly more likely than independents (52%) or Republicans (55%) to say serving in Congress would be a desirable characteristic. All the Democratic candidates are serving or have served in Congress.

Although a solid majority of all three party groups say it would not matter to them if the next president was a member of racial minority group or a lawyer, Democrats are still more inclined than independents and Republicans to say these two characteristics are desirable.

  • One in six Democrats (17%) say it would be desirable if the next president was a member of a minority group, while only 7% of independents and 6% of Republicans say this.
  • Being a lawyer is somewhat more desirable to Democrats (26%) than it is to independents (17%) or Republicans (13%). Each of the three leading Democrats -- Clinton, Edwards, and Obama -- are lawyers and Clinton and Edwards had careers in the legal field before entering politics. On the Republican side, leading candidates Giuliani and Thompson are both lawyers.

Democrats (22%) and independents (22%) are twice as likely as Republicans (11%) to say it would be undesirable for the next president to be personally wealthy, but most in each group still say this does not matter to them. As noted above, a number of the candidates are financially well-off, with Romney's personal wealth having been estimated as well above the $100 million level.

The three party groups do not differ that much in the desirability of eight attributes -- bringing about change in Washington, changing positions on issues over time, working as a government lobbyist, having limited experience in Washington, being Catholic, a woman, or Mormon, and having divorced in the past.

Bottom Line

Many of the current presidential candidates have been answering questions about their backgrounds, but to many Americans, these factors are neither a desirable or undesirable attribute for the next president. Solid majorities of Americans say it does not matter to them if the next president is Catholic, divorced, a racial or ethnic minority, wealthy, Mormon, a woman, a lawyer, a parent of a child who has served in the military, or a mayor of a large city.

Still, the fact that a substantial minority of Americans view some of these characteristics as undesirable may be enough to tilt an otherwise-close race. For example, the fact that one out of five look negatively on a candidate who is a Mormon could affect the chances of Romney in a close GOP primary race.

What is most desirable to the public is bringing about change in Washington -- something Republicans, independents, and Democrats agree about strongly. Somewhat paradoxically, however, a majority of Americans also say that having experience in Washington is a plus for a presidential candidate.

There are certain factors that loom as larger negatives for some candidates. Having served as a government lobbyist, as recently announced Thompson has done intermittently throughout his career, and being 70 years of age, as is the case for McCain and Paul, are viewed as undesirable characteristics by a majority of Americans. Limited experience in Washington, which includes Obama and Edwards, and flip-flopping on issues, which several candidates -- particularly Romney -- have been criticized of doing, also has the potential to hurt their chances in this race. Giuliani's strained relationship with his children is also frowned upon by the public, including a majority of Giuliani's core GOP constituency.

Survey Methods

Results for this panel study are based on telephone interviews with 1,001 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 23-26, 2007. Respondents were drawn from Gallup's household panel, which was originally recruited through random selection methods. The final sample is weighted so it is representative of U.S. adults nationwide. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 321 Republicans, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±7 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 359 independents, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±6 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 316 Democrats, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±7 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.

Get Articles in Related Topics:


Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/28693/Which-Characteristics-Most-Desirable-Next-President.aspx
Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030