When Ohioans begin voting next month for the highest office in the land, hundreds of thousands of them will hold their noses and check the box for a candidate they don’t like, don’t trust and don’t respect.
A poll conducted for Your Vote Ohio, a consortium of Ohio news organizations, including this one, found the candidates have reached a level of unpopularity that may be unprecedented in the history of American politics.
“Nobody has ever seen two major party candidates that are this unpopular,” said John C. Green, a political scientist and director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, which conducted the poll. “Nobody has ever seen anything quite like this.”
Sixty-two percent of Ohioans don’t like Republican Donald Trump and 54 percent don’t like Democrat Hillary Clinton, according to the poll, which also found a deeply trenched-in electorate: Few people on either side expect their opinions to change.
Large segments of Ohio voters view Clinton as an untrustworthy liar and they see Trump as a bully who lacks a filter, the poll found.
Interviews with people across Ohio confirmed those sentiments.
“I don’t like either one of them, but I despise Donald Trump so I will vote for Hillary,” said Susan Plake of Huber Heights. “He’s hot-headed. He’s offensive, especially toward women. I don’t like his policies on immigration.”
Liz Minotti, a fourth-year student at Ohio State University from the Columbus area, said she doesn’t like either candidate either.
“Trump might be a little bit better than Clinton,” she said. “But he has no filter and says things that should not be said…I really have no idea who I’m going to vote for.”
Early voting starts October 12 and Election Day is Nov. 8.
The Bliss Institute was able to isolate those who like or dislike the candidates and then delve into what motivated those feelings.
Of Ohioans who like Clinton, 30 percent said she is competent, 25 percent said she is responsible and 22 percent said she is caring. But of those who dislike her, 72 percent said lack of trust was the biggest reason and 11 percent said she is irresponsible.
Clinton campaign senior advisor Jake Sullivan said support for Clinton typically rises once she is in office and working. He noted that in 2000, Clinton won a small number of New York counties in her race for U.S. Senate, but six years later she was re-elected with 67 percent of the vote and won 58 of 62 counties.
“People tend to look at her differently when she is running for office than when she is in office, where she has enjoyed at points historic levels of popularity. So, I don’t think that the helter-skelter of a political campaign tells you too much about her capacity to govern effectively with the strong support of the American people,” Sullivan said. “As first lady and as senator and as secretary of state she enjoyed pretty broad bipartisan support and I believe that if she is elected in November, come January when she is actually going about the business of governing and helping the American people that people on both sides of the aisle as well as independents will see that and respond to it.”
Paras Shah, an Ohio State University economics major from Worthington who interned for Republican Rob Portman, said he will likely vote for Clinton because he doesn’t trust Trump with the economy or foreign relations.
In the poll, Clinton scored higher for competency than Trump but did not receive high marks for her foreign policy experience, perhaps a result of the ongoing scandals involving her tenure as secretary of state.
Trump supporters give him high marks for trust and they like his promise to build a wall along the Mexico border and deport illegal immigrants. But those promises are also cited by critics for not liking him.
Trump also loses support from people who don’t like the tone of his campaign and find many of his statements offensive.
Of those who don’t like him, 37 percent called him irresponsible, 22 percent said he is disrespectful and 12 percent said he is incompetent.
Deep animosity and frustration
Bob Paduchik, Ohio state director for Donald J. Trump For President, Inc., did not respond to a request for an interview but did reply to written questions regarding the poll findings.
When asked why Trump is so unpopular, Paduchik wrote: “What makes Mr. Trump popular with many Americans is his direct style of communication which is not typical for most career politicians. People can believe Mr. Trump because he says what he thinks, unlike Secretary Clinton whom the vast majority of voters think is untrustworthy. If American voters in 2016 want to continue the status quo with a traditional Washington, D.C., insider politician, then Hillary is the obvious choice. But poll after poll has shown that Americans don’t think that our country is headed in the right direction, and Hillary Clinton represents a third term of Obama’s failed policies.”
Many respondents had words of praise for the candidates. Those who like Trump say he is honest, tells it like it is and isn’t a politician. Those who like Clinton say she is experienced, caring, smart and policy-oriented with a commitment to social justice and women’s issues.
But the animosity on the other side of the divide runs deep. Clinton critics who responded to the survey called her arrogant, shady, unethical, dishonest and a liar.
Trump critics called him volatile, petulant, insolent, abrasive, pompous, arrogant, rude and more.
“I believe that Hillary is a crook. We’ve seen it over and over again,” said Lisa Davis of New Carlisle, a registered Republican who plans to research Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson as a possible choice. “And I believe that Trump is an idiot. I can’t believe some of the things that come out of his mouth.”
Andrew Rockway, program director for the non-partisan Jefferson Center, which has done extensive interviewing with voters, said there is a high level of frustration this year— about the tone of the campaign, about the perceived lack of reliable information and specifics from the candidates, about the way the election is being covered by the media and about the candidates themselves.
Trump is seen as polarizing while Clinton’s character and trustworthiness is clouded by questions over what happened in Benghazi, how she handled her emails as secretary of state and whether there are conflicts between her government work and the Clinton Foundation, Rockway said.
Even many Clinton supporters see her as a flawed candidate.
Elissa Kuharich, an Ohio State University communications major from Cleveland, said Clinton used poor judgment when she used a home-based server for emails while secretary of state.
But Kuharich still backs her, saying she did not do anything illegal and is a role model for young women like herself.
Jim Jacobson, of Centerville, who described himself as a Democrat who loves moderate Republicans, said he has problems with both candidates.
“But in terms of trustworthiness, Mr. Trump is much more untrustworthy,” he said, adding that Trump lacks specifics on how he plans to make America great, defeat terrorists or create jobs.
"There is absolutely no specifics on how he’ll do any of that so there is no way to evaluate him,” he said.
Green said once voters develop an impression of a candidate, it’s hard to change it. When asked if Trump could make a shift on issues that would cause them to view him differently, 73 percent of the poll respondents said no. Asked the same question about Clinton, 77 percent answered no.
“A lot of people don’t store in their brains detailed information about politicians,” Green said. “What they develop is an impression. If one side gets an advantage in defining the opponent then that advantage will last for at least several weeks and maybe for the whole campaign.”
Green sounded a warning about what the candidates’ unpopularity means for the country.
“Whoever moves into the White House in January is going to come in with a very low level of legitimacy,” he said. “There is going to be a lot of people who don’t trust them, don’t like them — even a lot of people who ended up voting for them.
“That will surely make it much more difficult to govern.”
Your Vote Ohio
The poll is part of a year-long Your Vote Ohio project in which Ohio news organizations are collaborating to bring you stories to advance democracy and reclaim your voice in American politics.
The poll of 1,089 Ohioans was conducted by the Center for Marketing and Opinion Research and the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. Interviews of Ohio citizens 18 and older were conducted throughout the month of August. It was a recall survey of 1,972 respondents originally surveyed in May-June 2016. The margin of error on the August survey is plus or minus 3 percentage points.